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US Geological Survey

1-1-2006

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals


Robert R. Seal II
U.S. Geological Survey, 954 National Center, Reston, Virginia 20192, USA, rseal@usgs.gov

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12

Reviews in Mineralogy & Geochemistry


Vol. 61, pp. 633-677, 2006
Copyright Mineralogical Society of America

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals


Robert R. Seal, II
U.S. Geological Survey
954 National Center
Reston, Virginia, 20192, U.S.A.
e-mail: rseal@usgs.gov

INTRODUCTION
th

Sulfur, the 10 most abundant element in the universe and the 14th most abundant element
in the Earths crust, is the defining element of sulfide minerals and provides insights into the
origins of these minerals through its stable isotopes. The insights come from variations in the
isotopic composition of sulfide minerals and related compounds such as sulfate minerals or
aqueous sulfur species, caused by preferential partitioning of isotopes among sulfur-bearing
phases, known as fractionation. These variations arise from differences in temperature, or
more importantly, oxidation and reduction reactions acting upon the sulfur. The oxidation and
reduction reactions can occur at high temperature, such as in igneous systems, at intermediate
temperatures, such as in hydrothermal systems, and at low temperature during sedimentary
diagenesis. At high temperatures, the reactions tend to occur under equilibrium conditions,
whereas at low temperatures, disequilibrium is prevalent. In addition, upper atmospheric
processes also lead to isotopic fractionations that locally appear in the geologic record.
Sulfur isotope geochemistry as a subdiscipline of the geological sciences began in the late
1940s and early 1950s with early publications by Thode et al. (1949) and Szabo et al. (1950)
on natural variations of sulfur isotopes, and Macnamara and Thode (1950) on the isotopic
composition of terrestrial and meteoritic sulfur. Sakai (1957) presented an early scientific
summary of sulfur isotope geochemistry, with a particular emphasis on high-temperature
processes. Thode et al. (1961) also presented an early summary, but with an emphasis on lowtemperature processes. Both of these summaries outlined salient aspects of the global sulfur
cycle. Sulfur isotope geochemistry understandably has had a long history of application to
the study of sulfide-bearing mineral deposits. Early noteworthy papers include those by Kulp
et al. (1956) and Jensen (1957, 1959). Similarly, there is also a legacy of contributions to
understanding sedimentary diagenesis and the origin of diagenetic pyrite. The paper by Thode
et al. (1951) represents one of the earliest efforts investigating sulfur isotope fractionations
associated with bacterial sulfate reduction. Subsequent advances in the field of sulfur isotope
geochemistry have been motivated by applications to an increasing variety of geochemical
systems and by technological advances in analytical techniques. Noteworthy reviews related
to the sulfur isotope geochemistry of sulfide minerals include those of Jensen (1967), Ohmoto
and Rye (1979), and Ohmoto and Goldhaber (1997), all of which emphasize mineral deposits,
Seal et al. (2000a) which emphasized sulfate minerals and their interactions with sulfides, and
Canfield (2001) which emphasized biogeochemical aspects of sulfur isotopes.
A considerable body of knowledge exists on the metal stable isotopic composition of
sulfide mineralsa topic that will not be covered in this paper. Recent analytical advances in
plasma-source mass spectrometry have enabled precise isotopic measurements of numerous
other metals in sulfide minerals including Fe (Johnson et al. 2003; Beard and Johnson 2004),
Cu (Marchal et al. 1999; Zhu et al. 2000; Larson et al. 2003; Albarde 2004), Zn (Marchal et
al. 1999; Albarde 2004) and Mo (Barling et al. 2001; Anbar 2004), among others.
1529-6466/06/0061-0012$05.00

DOI: 10.2138/rmg.2006.61.12

This article is a U.S. government work, and is not subject to copyright in the United States.

634

Seal

The intent of this chapter is to build upon previous reviews of sulfur isotope geochemistry
as they relate to sulfide minerals, summarize landmark studies in the field, resolve, or
at least discuss, existing controversies and summarize recent advances for a variety of
geochemical settings. The first part of this chapter is designed to provide the reader with a
basic understanding of the principles that form the foundations of stable isotope geochemistry.
Next, an overview of analytical methods used to determine the isotope composition of sulfide
minerals is presented. This overview is followed by a discussion of geochemical processes that
determine the isotope characteristics of sulfide minerals and related compounds. The chapter
then concludes with an examination of the stable isotope geochemistry of sulfide minerals in
a variety of geochemical environments.

FUNDAMENTAL ASPECTS OF SULFUR ISOTOPE GEOCHEMISTRY


An isotope of an element is defined by the total number of protons (Z) and neutrons (N)
present, which sum together to give the atomic mass (A). For example, the element sulfur is
defined by the presence of 16 protons, but can have either 16, 17, 18, 19, or 20 neutrons, giving
atomic masses of 32, 33, 34, 35, and 36 amu, respectively. These isotopes are written as 32S,
33
S, 34S, 35S, and 36S. Four of the five naturally occurring sulfur isotopes are stable (32S, 33S,
34
S, and 36S) and one (35S) is unstable, or radiogenic. The isotope 35S is formed from cosmic
ray spallation of 40Ar in the atmosphere (Peters 1959). It undergoes beta decay with a half-life
of 87 days; therefore, it is not important from the perspective of naturally occurring sulfide
minerals. The four stable isotopes of sulfur, 32S, 33S, 34S, and 36S, have approximate terrestrial
abundances of 95.02, 0.75, 4.21, and 0.02%, respectively (Macnamara and Thode 1950).
Stable isotope geochemistry is concerned primarily with the relative partitioning of stable
isotopes among substances (i.e., changes in the ratios of isotopes), rather than their absolute
abundances. The difference in the partitioning behavior of various isotopes, otherwise known
as fractionation, is due to equilibrium and kinetic effects. In general, heavier isotopes form
more stable bonds; molecules of different masses react at different rates (ONeil 1986).
Isotope ratios are usually expressed as the ratio of a minor isotope of an element to a major
isotope of the element. For sulfide minerals, the principal ratio of concern is 34S/32S. However,
renewed interest in 33S/32S and 36S/32S ratios has been generated by the discovery of unexpected
variations of these minor isotopes in Precambrian sulfide and sulfate minerals and in Martian
meteorites (Farquhar et al. 2000a,b; Farquhar and Wing 2003). Most fractionation processes
will typically cause variations in these ratios in the fifth or sixth decimal places. Because we are
concerned with variations in isotopic ratios that are relatively small, the isotopic composition
of substances is expressed in delta () notation, as parts per thousand variation relative to a
reference material. The -notation for the 34S/32S composition of a substance is defined as:

34S =

34

)
(

S/ 32 S

sample

34

(
S)

S/ 32

34

S/ 32 S

reference

reference

1000

(1)

which has units of parts per thousand or permil (), also found in the literature spelled per
mil, per mill, and per mille. The values for 33S and 36S are similarly defined for the ratio
of 33S/32S and 36S/32S, respectively. The agreed upon reference for sulfur isotopes is Vienna
Canyon Diablo Troilite (VCDT) with 34S = 0.0 by definition, which is currently defined
relative to a silver sulfide reference material IAEA-S-1 with an assigned value of 0.3
because the supply of the Canyon Diablo Troilite reference material has been exhausted
(Krouse and Coplen 1997). The reference was originally defined by the isotopic composition
of troilite (FeS) from the Canyon Diablo iron meteorite. The absolute 34S/32S ratio for Canyon

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

635

Diablo Troilite is 4.50045 103 (Ault and Jensen 1963). The selection of a meteoritic sulfide
mineral as the reference for sulfur is useful because meteoritic sulfide is thought to represent
the primordial sulfur isotopic composition of Earth (Nielsen et al. 1991). Thus, any variations
in the isotopic composition of terrestrial sulfur relative to VCDT reflects differentiation since
the formation of Earth.
For sulfur, which has more than two stable isotopes, 34S/32S is the ratio most commonly
measured in studies of terrestrial systems. This ratio was chosen for two main reasons.
Firstly, it represents the most abundant isotopes of these elements, which facilitates analysis.
Secondly, isotopic fractionation is governed by mass balance such that different isotopic ratios
tend to vary systematically with one another in proportions that can be approximated by the
mass differences among the isotopes. In other words, the variations in the 33S/32S ratio of a
sample will be approximately half that of the 34S/32S ratio because of the relative differences
in masses. Likewise, the variations in the 36S/32S ratio of a sample will be approximately twice
that of the 34S/32S ratio. This linear fractionation trend due to physical and chemical processes
is known mass-dependent fractionation (Urey 1947; Hulston and Thode 1965a,b), which is
in distinct contrast to mass-independent fractionation. Mass-independent fractionation is
reflected by non-linear variations in isotopic fractionation with mass, and will be discussed in
more detail below.
Fractionation can be considered in terms of isotopic exchange reactions, which are driven
thermodynamically toward equilibrium. Thus, isotopic equilibrium, for example between
sphalerite (Sl) and galena (Gn), can be described by an isotopic exchange reaction such as:
Pb34S + Zn32S = Pb32S + Zn34S

(2)

which is written in a form with one exchangeable atom of sulfur. The equilibrium constant (K)
for this reaction is equivalent to the isotopic fractionation factor ():
Pb 32 S Zn 34 S
K = 34
=
Pb S Zn 32 S

(
(

)
S)

34

S/ 32 S

34

32

S/

Sl

= Sl-Gn

(3)

Gn

where the isotopic species are meant to represent their respective chemical activities. Thus, in
a more general form, the partitioning of stable isotopes between two substances, A and B, is
quantitatively described by a fractionation factor, which is defined as:
A-B =

RA
RB

( 4)

where R is 34S/32S. This equation can be recast in terms of values using Equation (1) as:
A-B

A
1000 + A
1000
=
=
B
1000 + B
1+
1000
1+

(5)

Values of are typically near unity, with variations normally in the third decimal place
(1.00X). For example, the equilibrium 34S/32S fractionation between sphalerite and galena at
300 C has been measured to have an Sl-Gn value of 1.0022. Thus, sphalerite is enriched in 34S
relative to galena by 2.2 (i.e., the fractionation equals 2.2). For an value less than unity,
such as Gn-Sl, which equals 0.9978, the galena is depleted in 34S relative to sphalerite by 2.2
(i.e., the fractionation equals 2.2). In the literature, fractionation factors may be expressed
in a variety of ways including , 1000ln, and , among others. The value A-B is defined as:
A-B = A B

(6)

636

Seal

A convenient mathematical relationship is that 1000ln(1.00X) is approximately equal to X,


so that:
A-B 1000lnA-B

(7)

Isotopic fractionations may also be defined in terms of an enrichment factor (), where:
A-B = (A-B 1) 1000

(8)

ANALYTICAL METHODS
Several procedures are available to determine the sulfur isotopic compositions of sulfide
minerals. Conventional analyses typically involve mineral separation procedures that may
include handpicking or gravimetric techniques (heavy liquids, panning, etc.) or wet chemical
techniques. Once a suitable concentration of the desired compound is obtained, the sulfur is
extracted and converted to a gaseous form that is amenable to mass spectrometric analysis.
For sulfur, the gas is SO2. Alternatively, the gas SF6 may be used, which has the advantages
of being an inert, nonabsorbing gas, and lacking ambiguity in isotopic speciation because
fluorine has only one stable isotope. It has the disadvantage of requiring potential hazardous
fluorinating reagents. The amount of sample required varies among laboratories, but typically
ranges from 5 to 20 mg of pure mineral separate for 34S using conventional techniques.
Typical analytical uncertainties (1) for conventional techniques are 0.1 for 34S.
For conventional 34S analysis of sulfide minerals, SO2 is produced for analysis by
reacting the sulfate mineral with an oxidant (CuO, Cu2O, or V2O5) at elevated temperatures
(1000 to 1200 C) under vacuum (Holt and Engelkemeier 1970; Haur et al. 1973; Coleman
and Moore 1978). SF6 can be prepared using BrF3, BrF5, or elemental F as reagents at elevated
temperatures (300 C) in nickel reaction vessels; the SF6 is then purified cryogenically and
through gas chromatography (Hulston and Thode 1965a; Puchelt et al. 1971; Thode and Rees
1971). Other conventional techniques for the 34S analysis of sulfide minerals have been
summarized by Rees and Holt (1991).
Isotopic analysis is done on a gas-source, sector-type, isotope ratio mass spectrometer. In
gas-source mass spectrometers, SO2 gas molecules are ionized to positively charged particles,
such as SO2+, which are accelerated through a voltage gradient. The ion beam passes through
a magnetic field, which causes separation of various masses such as 64 (32S16O2) and 66
(34S16O2, 34S18O16O). In conventional dual-inlet mass spectrometers, a sample gas is measured
alternately with a reference gas. The beam currents are measured in faraday cups and can be
related to the isotopic ratio when the sample and standard gases are compared.
Technological advances over the past decade have opened new frontiers in stable isotope
analysis of sulfide minerals. One new area is the in situ microanalysis of minerals. For in situ
analysis, a growing body of sulfur isotope data has been generated from samples of sulfide
minerals using the secondary ion mass spectrometer (SIMS) otherwise known as the ion
microprobe (Eldridge et al. 1988; Paterson et al. 1997; McKibben and Riciputi 1998). The
ion microprobe bombards a sample with a beam of charged Cs or O. The ion beam causes the
sample to be ablated as secondary ionic species, which are measured in a mass spectrometer.
Spatial resolution less than 20 m can be achieved with an analytical uncertainty of 0.25
for sulfur isotope analyses using the ion microprobe (Paterson et al. 1997).
Techniques for in situ analysis have also been developed using lasers as heat sources to
drive reactions producing either SO2 or SF6 for isotopic analysis, and have been reviewed
by Shanks et al. (1998). Laser-based techniques resulting in SO2 for isotopic analysis were
first developed by Crowe et al. (1990). Spatial resolution can be achieved as good as a spot
size of 150 m having an analytical precision of 0.3 to 0.6. Early development of laser-

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

637

based sulfur isotope analysis on SF6 was by Rumble et al. (1993) and Beaudoin and Taylor
(1994). Spatial resolution (< 150 m) and analytical precision (0.2) for in situ analysis are
routinely similar to those achieved for the analysis of SO2.
Another recent advance is the development of continuous-flow techniques that use a combination of an elemental analyzer and gas chromatograph for online combustion and purification
of gases that are then carried in a He stream directly into the ion source of a mass spectrometer,
which allows for the mass production of data from small samples. Continuous-flow systems can
measure the sulfur isotopic ratios of sulfide samples in the microgram range, compared to the
milligram range for conventional techniques (Giesemann et al. 1994). Sample gases are prepared
by on-line peripheral devices such as elemental analyzers that are capable of processing 50 to
100 samples per day in a highly automated fashion. Furthermore, most sulfur isotope measurements can be made without mineral purification, if bulk sulfur data are all that is desired.

REFERENCE RESERVOIRS
Sulfur isotope variations on Earth can be considered relative to geologically important
reservoirs. The most common reference reservoirs for sulfur isotopes in terrestrial systems
are meteoritic sulfur and seawater. Meteoritic sulfur, such as that in Canyon Diablo troilite,
provides a convenient reference because it is generally regarded as approximating the bulk
composition of the Earth. The iron meteorites have an average sulfur isotope composition of
34S = 0.2 0.2 (Kaplan and Hulston 1966), which is indistinguishable from that of pristine
mid-ocean ridge basalts (34S = 0.3 0.5; Sakai et al. 1984). Geochemical processes, the
most notable of which are oxidation and reduction, profoundly fractionate sulfur isotopes
away from bulk-Earth values in geological systems (Fig. 1). Oxidation processes produce
species that are enriched in 34S relative to the starting material, whereas reduction produces
species that are depleted in 34S.
Oxidation-reduction reactions involving reduced sulfur from the interior of the Earth
throughout its history have resulted in a 34S of 21.0 0.2 for dissolved sulfate in modern
oceans (Rees et al. 1978). Because of the volume and importance of the ocean in the global
sulfur cycle, this composition is another important reference reservoir from which to evaluate
sulfur isotope variations in geological systems. The 34S of sulfate in ancient oceans as recorded
by marine evaporite sequences (Claypool et al. 1980) has varied from a low near 0 during

Meteorites
Igneous rocks
Petroleum & coal
Modern seawater sulfate
Ancient marine evaporites
Modern & ancient
sedimentary pyrite

-50

-40

-30

-20

-10

10

20

30

34S
Figure 1. 34S of various geologic reservoirs. Modified from Seal et al.
(2000a). All isotopic values in permil (VCDT).

40

638

Seal

Archean time to a high of 35 during Cambrian time. The causes and implications of the
secular variations in the sulfur isotope composition of seawater are discussed in a later section.

FACTORS THAT CONTROL SULFUR ISOTOPE FRACTIONATION


Most isotopic fractionation is the result of variations in thermodynamic properties of
molecules that are dependent on mass. Details of the thermodynamic basis for understanding
isotope fractionation have been presented by Urey (1947), Bigeleisen and Mayer (1947), and
Bigeleisen (1952). Isotope fractionation may result from equilibrium or kinetically controlled
chemical and physical processes. Equilibrium processes include isotopic exchange reactions,
which redistribute isotopes among molecules of different substances. Equilibrium isotope
effects result from the effect of atomic mass on bonding; molecules containing a heavier isotope
are more stable than those containing a lighter isotope. Kinetic processes include irreversible
chemical reactions, such as bacterially mediated processes like sulfate reduction and physical
processes such as evaporation and diffusion (ONeil 1986). Kinetic isotope effects are related
to greater translational and vibrational velocities associated with lighter isotopes. It is easier
to break bonds with lighter isotopes, for example the 32SO bond, compared with the 34SO
bond, in processes such as bacterially mediated reduction of dissolved sulfate to sulfide.
Among the several factors that influence the magnitude of equilibrium stable isotope
fractionations are temperature, chemical composition, crystal structure and pressure (ONeil
1986). For the present discussion, temperature and chemical composition are the most
important. Pressure effects are minimal at upper crustal conditions. The temperature dependence
of fractionation factors results from the relative effect of temperature on the vibrational energies
of two substances. Theoretical considerations indicate that the stable isotope fractionation
between two substances should approach zero at infinite temperature (Bigeleisen and Mayer
1947). These fractionations are generally described well by equations of the form:
1000 ln =

a
b
+ +c
2
T
T

( 9)

where a, b, and c are empirically determined constants.


The dependence of isotopic fractionation can be related to chemical variables such as
oxidation state, ionic charge, atomic mass, and the electronic configuration of the isotopic
elements and the elements to which they are bound (ONeil 1986). For sulfur-bearing systems,
the effect of the oxidation state of sulfur is especially important. The higher oxidation states
of sulfur are enriched in the heavier isotopes relative to lower oxidation states such that 34S
enrichment follows the general trend SO42 > SO32 > Sx > S2 (Sakai 1968; Bachinski 1969).
In the geological record, this trend is reflected by the fact that sulfate minerals typically have
higher 34S values than cogenetic sulfide minerals in a variety of geochemical settings.
Cationic substitutions also play an important role in stable isotope fractionations. Heavier
elements such as Ba or Pb form stronger bonds than lighter elements such as Ca or Zn. Thus,
on a relative basis, the heavier elements are able to bond more effectively with lighter, more
energetic stable isotopes such as 16O or 32S. ONeil et al. (1969) documented a cation-mass
dependence of 18O enrichment in divalent metal-carbonate minerals with 18O enrichment
following the order CaCO3 > SrCO3 > BaCO3. Likewise, the 34S enrichment in divalent sulfide
minerals is such that ZnS > PbS.

EQUILIBRIUM FRACTIONATION FACTORS


Equilibrium isotopic fractionation factors are typically derived by one of three methods:

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

639

(1) experimental determination, (2) theoretical estimation using calculated bond strengths or
statistical mechanical calculations based on data on vibrational frequencies of compounds, or
(3) analysis of natural samples for which independent estimates of temperature are available.
Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Experimental determination provides a direct
measurement of the fractionation, but such efforts are commonly hampered by experimental
kinetic limitations and the fact that media used in experiments typically do not approximate
natural conditions. Theoretical estimation avoids the kinetic problems of experimental studies,
but is limited by the availability and accuracy of data required for the estimation. Fractionation
factors derived from the analysis of natural materials provide a means of investigating isotopic
fractionations when data from neither of the other methods are available. However, the
accuracy of this method can be affected by retrograde isotopic exchange and uncertainties
related to whether or not the mineral pairs are cogenetic and to the independent temperature
estimate derived from fluid inclusions, for example.

Experimentally determined fractionation factors


Experimental sulfur isotopic fractionation factors for sulfide minerals are limited to a
few mineral species, despite the geological importance of numerous sulfides, particularly to
ore-forming systems. Ohmoto and Rye (1979) reviewed and critically evaluated the available
experimental sulfur isotope fractionation data relative to H2S, which included temperaturedependent fractionation factors for sulfites, SO2, H2S gas, HS, S2, and S, and the minerals
pyrite (FeS2), sphalerite (ZnS), pyrrhotite (Fe1xS), chalcopyrite (CuFeS2), and galena (PbS).
Their evaluation and compilation included experimental studies by Grootenboer and Schwarz
(1969), Schiller et al. (1969), Grinenko and Thode (1970), Kajiwara and Krouse (1971),
Salomons (1971), Thode et al. (1971), Kiyosu (1973), Robinson (1973), and Czamanske
and Rye (1974), and estimates following Sakai (1968) and Bachinski (1969). Ohmoto and
Lasaga (1982) re-evaluated experimental studies investigating sulfur-isotope fractionations
between aqueous sulfate and sulfide (Robinson 1973; Bahr 1976; Igumnov et al. 1977; Sakai
and Dickson 1978) and presented a revised equation describing SO42-H2S sulfur-isotope
fractionation as a function of temperature. No further re-evaluation of these data is made in
this chapter. Expressions describing the temperature-dependent sulfur isotope fractionation of
these compounds relative to H2S are summarized in Table 1 and Figure 2.
Several other experimental studies of sulfur-isotope fractionation have been published
since the compilation of Ohmoto and Rye (1979). Szaran (1996) measured the sulfur isotope
fractionation between dissolved and gaseous H2S from 11 to 30 C and found that dissolved
H2S is minimally enriched in 34S relative to the gaseous H2S, ranging from 2.2 at 11 C to
1.1 at 30 C. In comparison, Ohmoto and Rye (1979) reported no fractionation, presumably
for all temperatures. A least-squares fit to the data of Szaran (1996) is presented in Table 1.
Hubberten (1980) conducted synthesis experiments investigating sulfur isotope
fractionations between 280 and 700 C for galena, argentite (Ag2S), covellite (CuS) or
digenite (Cu9S5) equilibrated with sulfur. Bente and Nielsen (1982) conducted reversed
experiments between 150 and 600 C on isotopic fractionations between bismuthinite
(Bi2S3) and sulfur. Suvorova and Tenishev (1976) and Suvorova (1978) conducted synthesis
experiments investigating sulfur isotope fractionation between 300 and 600 C between
various mineral pairs including sphalerite-molybdenite (Sl-Mb), galena-molybdenite (GnMb), galena-herzenbergite (SnS)(Gn-Hz), tungstenite (WS2)-molybdenite (Tn-Mb), and
stibnite-molybdenite (St-Mb).
The accuracy of these more recent fractionation factors, especially those from the
synthesis experiments, warrants evaluation. The rates of solid-state reactions among various
sulfides minerals are known to vary by several orders of magnitude. Molybdenite is considered
to be one of the most refractory and argentite to be one of the most reactive (Barton and

640

Seal
Table 1. Equilibrium isotopic fractionation factors for sulfide minerals
and related compounds described by the equation
a 106 b 103
1000 ln i H2 S =
+
+ c; ( T in K )
T
T2

Compound or component (i)

Sulfate minerals and aqueous sulfate


Sulfites
SO2
S(=S8)
H2S aqueous-gaseous
HS
S2
FeS2
FeS
CuFeS2
PbS
ZnS
Ag2S
Cu2S
CuS
Bi2S3

6.463
4.12
4.70
0.16
0.71
0.06
0.21
0.40
0.10
0.05
0.63
0.10
0.62
0.06
0.04
0.67

5.82

0.56
5.0
0.5

1.23

6.67
0.6
1.23

T (C)
range*

Data
sources

200 - 400
> 25
350 - 1050
200 - 400
11 - 30
50 - 350
> 25
200 - 700
200 - 600
200 - 600
50 - 700
50 - 705
280 - 700
510 - 630
280 - 490
150 - 600

(2)
(1)
(1)
(1)
(3)
(1)
(1)
(1)
(1)
(1)
(1)
(1)
(4)
(4)
(4)
(5)

* Temperature range refers to the experimental temperature range; note that fractionation factors may extrapolate
significantly beyond these ranges (see text).
Data sources: (1) Ohmoto and Rye 1979; (2) Ohmoto and Lasaga 1982; (3) Szaran 1996; (4) Hubberten 1980; (5) Bente
and Nielsen 1982.

Skinner 1979). The methodologies and systems can be evaluated critically, in part through
comparison with systems evaluated by Ohmoto and Rye (1979).
The experimental data of Hubberten (1980) for sulfur isotope fractionation between
galena and sulfur (280 to 700 C) can be evaluated by comparison with galena-sulfur
fractionations derived by the combination of the galena-H2S (50 to 700 C) and sulfur-H2S
(200 to 400 C) expressions from Ohmoto and Rye (1979). From 280 to 700 C, the two
estimates of galena-sulfur isotope fractionation are identical within analytical uncertainty.
No independent comparisons based on experimental results can be made for the argentite,
digenite, and covellite data of Hubberten (1980), but the galena-sulfur comparison at least
adds confidence to the experimental technique. Nevertheless, the fractionations for argentite,
digenite, and covellite are consistent with those predicted following the methods of Sakai
(1968) and Bachinski (1969) as summarized by Ohmoto and Rye (1979).
Likewise, no independent comparison of the results of Bente and Nielsen (1982) for
bismuthinite-sulfur fractionations can be made, but their results are also consistent with
theoretical predictions. Expressions for sulfur isotope fractionation of argentite, digenite,
covellite, and bismuthinite with H2S, based on the experimental results of Hubberten (1980)
and Bente and Nielsen (1982) combined with the sulfur-H2S fractionations from Ohmoto and
Rye (1979) are presented in Table 1.
The experimental results of Suvorova and Tenishev (1976) and Suvorova (1978) for sulfur
isotope exchange between molybdenite and a variety of sulfide minerals, and between galena
and herzenbergite, are problematic. Derived expressions for fractionation between sphalerite
and galena are within 0.4 of expressions derived from Ohmoto and Rye (1979). However,
fractionations for various sulfide minerals relative to H2S derived on the basis of their results

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

641

T (C)
900700 500 400

30.0

300

200
2SO4

100

50

25

SO2

25.0

1000lni-H2S

20.0
15.0
10.0
5.0

Py
Po & Sl

0.0

S8

-5.0
-10.0

Cv
Cp
& Dg

Ar
Bs

0.0

2.0

4.0

6.0
106/T

8.0

10.0

Gn

12.0

(K)2

Figure 2. Temperature dependence of experimentally determined equilibrium sulfur isotope fractionation


factors relative to H2S for a variety of sulfur species and sulfide minerals. The dashed line indicates a
0.0 1000ln value. Data from Table 1. Abbreviations: Ar argentite, Bs bismuthinite, Cp chalcopyrite, Cv
covellite, Dg digenite, Gn galena, Po pyrrhotite, Py pyrite, Sl sphalerite.

are significantly different from those summarized by Ohmoto and Rye (1979), or those based
on theoretical predictions. In fact, the fractionations appear to be the opposite of what would be
expected. On the basis of the information provided by Suvorova and Tenishev (1976) and Suvorova (1978), it is unclear whether the discrepancy results from experimental or computational
error. Therefore, the results of these studies are not included in Table 1 or Figure 2.

Geothermometry
The temperature-dependence of sulfur isotope fractionation between two phases, typically
solids, forms the basis of sulfur isotope geothermometry. Sulfur isotope geothermometry is
based on the partitioning of sulfur isotopes between two substances such as sphalerite and
galena, or pyrite and barite. Sulfur isotope fractionation between dissolved SO42 and H2S has
been used to assess reservoir temperatures in geothermal systems. The use of sulfur isotopes
for this type of geothermometry is based on several requirements or assumptions. Firstly, the
minerals must have formed contemporaneously and in equilibrium with one another at a single
temperature. Secondly, subsequent re-equilibration or alteration of one or both minerals must
not have occurred. Thirdly, pure minerals must be separated for isotopic analysis. Fourthly,
the temperature dependence of the fractionation factors must be known. In addition, greater
precision in the temperature estimate will be achieved from the use of mineral pairs that have
the greatest temperature dependence in their fractionations. Kinetic considerations offer both

642

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advantages and disadvantages to geothermometry. Rapid kinetics of isotope exchange promotes


mineral formation under equilibrium conditions. Unfortunately, rapid exchange kinetics also
makes mineral pairs prone to re-equilibration during cooling. In contrast, sluggish kinetics
hampers isotopic equilibration between minerals. However, once equilibrated, mineral pairs
with sluggish exchange kinetics will tend to record formation conditions without subsequent
re-equilibration at lower temperatures.
Because of the relationships expressed in Equations (6) and (7), mineral-mineral
fractionation equations can be derived from the equations in Table 1. An equation to calculate
the temperature recorded by the coexisting pair of sphalerite (Sl) and galena (Gn) can be
derived as follows:
1000 lnSl-Gn Sl-Gn = 34SSl 34SGn

(10)

Sl-Gn = Sl-H2S Gn-H2S = 34SSl 34SH2S (34SGn 34SH2S)

(11)

Sl-Gn 1000 lnSl-H2S 1000 lnGn-H2S

(12)

Thus:
or
Substituting from Table 1 gives:
0.10 106 0.63 106
Sl-Gn =

T2
T2

(13)

with T in K, or:
Sl-Gn =

0.73 106
T2

(14)

Solving for T, and converting to C yields:


T ( C ) =

0.73 106
273.15
Sl Gn

(15)

For example, for a sample with 34SSl = 8.7 and 34SGn = 6.1, a temperature of 257 C is
calculated using Equation (15). Uncertainties in sulfur isotope temperature estimates generally
range between 10 and 40 C (Ohmoto and Rye 1979).

PROCESSES THAT RESULT IN STABLE ISOTOPIC VARIATIONS OF SULFUR


Variations in the stable isotopic composition of natural systems can result from a variety
of equilibrium and kinetically controlled processes, which span a continuum. These processes
can be further divided into mass-dependent and mass-independent fractionation processes.
Mass-dependent fractionation processes are the most common in geochemical systems and
cause systematic correlations among the various stable sulfur isotopes (i.e., 32S, 33S, 34S, and
36
S) on the basis of their relative mass differences. As the name implies, mass-independent
fractionation does not.

Mass-dependent fractionation processes


The most important steps for producing mass-dependent sulfur isotopic variations in sulfide
minerals are the geochemical processes that initially produce the sulfide from other sulfur species
such as sulfate or sulfite, or transform sulfide to other sulfur species, rather than the actual

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

643

precipitation of the sulfide mineral from dissolved sulfide. In addition, the low-temperature
rates of many of the oxidation and reduction processes are enhanced by bacterial mediation,
which can impart distinct isotopic fractionations to these processes. Thus, the complex aqueous
geochemistry of sulfur species is a key aspect for understanding the stable isotope geochemistry
of sulfate minerals. Ohmoto (1972) developed the principles for application of sulfur isotope
systematics to sulfur speciation in hydrothermal ore deposits. Comprehensive reviews of the
controls on the sulfur isotope systematics of sulfides in ore deposits have been given by Ohmoto
and Rye (1979), Ohmoto (1986), and Ohmoto and Goldhaber (1997).
Significant isotopic variations may be caused by progressive fractionation processes
in a setting where the reservoir of sulfur available is finite, especially where the sulfur
isotope fractionation factor between the starting and final sulfur species is large. Under these
conditions many equilibrium and kinetic processes can be described as Rayleigh distillation
processes. Rayleigh processes are described by the equation:
R = Ro f (1)

(16)

where Ro is the initial isotopic ratio, R is the isotopic ratio when a fraction (f) of the starting
amount remains, and is the fractionation factor, either equilibrium or kinetic. This equation
can be recast in the notation for sulfur isotopes as:
34S = (34So+1000)f (1) 1000

(17)

Rayleigh models accurately describe isotopic variations associated with processes such as the
precipitation of minerals from solutions, the precipitation of rain or snow from atmospheric
moisture, and the bacterial reduction of seawater sulfate to sulfide, among others. Bacterial
reduction of seawater sulfate can be modeled using Equation (17). If = 1.0408 and 34 So =
21.0, then precipitation of pyrite from H2S produced from bacterial reduction of sulfate will
preferentially remove 32S and the first pyrite formed will have 34S 20. The preferential
removal of 32S will cause the 34S of the residual aqueous sulfate to increase which, in turn,
will lead to an increase in the 34S of subsequently formed pyrite (Fig. 3). Under closed-system
behavior, after all sulfate has been reduced, the bulk isotopic 34S of the precipitated pyrite will
equal the 34S of the initial sulfate. However, the 34S of individual pyrite grains or growth zones
can be both lower and higher than the bulk composition, depending on when they formed.
Mixing is another important process that can cause isotopic variations. It can be modeled
on the basis of simple mass-balance equations such as:
mixture = XAA + XBB

(18)

where mixture is the resulting isotopic composition of the mixture, A and B are the isotopic
compositions of components A and B, and XA and XB are the mole fractions of components A
and B.
Kinetics of isotope exchange reactions. The kinetics of isotopic exchange between
aqueous sulfate and sulfide at elevated temperatures are important in determining the
isotopic composition of sulfide minerals and associated aqueous or solid sulfate. Ohmoto
and Lasaga (1982) found that exchange rates between dissolved SO42 and H2S decreased
with increasing pH at pH < 3; from pH 4 to 7, the rates remain fairly constant; at pH > 7,
the rate also decreases with increasing pH. The reason for these changes in rate as a function
of pH is the pH dependence of sulfur speciation. Ohmoto and Lasaga (1982) proposed that
the overall rate of exchange is limited by exchange reactions involving intermediate valence
thiosulfate species (S2O32), the abundance of which is dependent on pH. The rate-limiting
step was postulated to be an intramolecular exchange between non-equivalent sulfur sites in
thiosulfate, which has been further investigated by Chu et al. (2004). Ohmoto and Lasaga
(1982) calculated the most rapid equilibration rates at high temperature (T = 350 C) and

644

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XSO42- = 1.0

1.0
0.9

Sulfate
Reduction

0.8

Sulfate
Reduction

0.7
Bulk Sulfur

0.6

0.5
0.4
0.3
0.2
0.1

XH2S = 1.0

H 2S @ f

Residual
SO42-

Cumulative
H2S

0.0
-20 -10

10

20

30 40

50

60 70

80

90 100

34S
Figure 3. Rayleigh distillation curves for bacterial reduction of seawater sulfate showing the change in
34S of resultant H2S (filled circles), residual sulfate (open circles), and bulk sulfide (X) as a function of
reaction progress. Pyrite precipitated from the H2S would be expected to have a 34S that is approximately
4 higher than that shown for H2S assuming equilibrium fractionation between pyrite and H2S. Modified
from Ohmoto and Goldhaber (1997) and Seal et al. (2000a). Isotopic values in permil (VCDT).

low pH (pH 2) of approximately 4 hours for 90% equilibrium between aqueous sulfate and
sulfide; however, at low temperature (T = 25 C) and near neutral pH (pH = 4-7), the time
to attain 90% equilibrium reached 9 109 years. Thus, disequilibrium between sulfate and
sulfide minerals should be prevalent in hydrothermal and geothermal systems below 350 C,
except under extremely acidic conditions (Fig. 4).
Sulfate reduction. Sulfate reduction in natural systems tends to produce characteristic,
kinetically controlled, non-equilibrium sulfur isotope fractionations in both biotic and abiotic
environments. Isotopic variations associated with the biogenic reduction of sulfate have been
studied by numerous researchers, most of whom have concentrated on the role of dissimilatory
sulfate-reducing bacteria such as Desulfovibrio desulfuricans. The activity of sulfate-reducing
bacteria in marine sediments throughout most of geological time had a profound effect on the
sulfur isotope composition of seawater sulfate, which is discussed in a later section.
Sulfate-reducing bacteria are active only in anoxic environments such as below the
sedimentwater interface, and in anoxic water bodies. Various species of sulfate-reducing
bacteria can survive over a range of temperature (0 to 110 C) and pH (5 to 9.5) conditions,
but prefer near-neutral conditions between 20 and 40 C and can withstand a range of salinities
from dilute up to halite saturation (Postgate 1984; Canfield 2001). The metabolism of sulfatereducing bacteria can be described by the general reaction:
2 CH2O + SO42 H2S + 2 HCO3

(19)

where CH2O represents generic organic matter (Berner 1985). The H2S can be lost to the
water column, reoxidized, fixed as iron-sulfide minerals (i.e., pyrite, mackinawite, greigite)
or other sulfide minerals if reactive metals are present, or it can be fixed as organic-bound
sulfur. In near-surface sediments deposited under normal (oxygenated) marine settings, the

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

645

100

6
10 years

1 year

4
20

log t1/2 (hours)

1 month

1 day

30

0
1.0

2.0

3.0

4.0

5.0

6.0

7.0

8.0

9.0

10.0

pH
Figure 4. The kinetics of sulfur isotope exchange in terms of pH and log t1/2 for a solution with 0.1 m Na
and 0.01 m S. The bends in the isotherms are due to changes in the speciation of sulfur as a function of
pH. Modified from Ohmoto and Lasaga (1982).

activity of sulfate-reducing bacteria is limited by the supply and reactivity of organic matter; in
freshwater and euxinic basins, the activity is limited by sulfate availability (Berner 1985).
The fractionation of sulfur isotopes between sulfate and sulfide during bacterial sulfate
reduction is a kinetically controlled process in which 34S is enriched in the sulfate relative to the
sulfide, in the same sense as equilibrium fractionation between sulfate and sulfide (Chambers
and Trudinger 1979). The sulfate-reducing bacteria more readily metabolize 32S relative to 34S.
Thus, the 34S of the residual aqueous sulfate increases during the reaction progress.
The magnitude of the fractionation has been shown to be a function of the rate of sulfate
reduction, which can be related to sedimentation rates. The smaller fractionations correspond
to faster rates of sulfate reduction and sedimentation, whereas the larger fractionations
correspond to slower rates of sulfate reduction and sedimentation (Goldhaber and Kaplan
1975). In contrast, other compilations fail to show such distinct correlations between isotopic
fractionation and sedimentation rate (Canfield and Teske 1996). The fractionation associated
with bacterial sulfate reduction (1000lnSO4-H2S) typically ranges from 15 to 71 (Goldhaber
and Kaplan 1975; Canfield and Teske 1996) in marine settings, compared to an equilibrium,
abiotic fractionation of approximately 73 at 25 C. However, Canfield and Teske (1996)
and Canfield (2001) noted fractionations ranging only between 4 and 46 that can be directly
attributed to bacterial sulfate reduction. Canfield (2001) and Habicht and Canfield (2001)
suggested that the greater amount of fractionation found in nature may result from the nearubiquitous partial oxidation in marine settings of resultant sulfide, and subsequent isotopic
effects associated with disproportionation of intermediate sulfur species.
The isotopic composition of the pyrite resulting from bacterial sulfate reduction depends
on how open or closed is the system. In natural settings, evolution of the isotopic system
may occur in a closed basin, where the reservoir of sulfate is finite and becoming exhausted,
or sulfate availability may be limited due to diagenetic cementation of pore spaces in the
sediments which isolates the sulfate undergoing reduction from replenishment. Open systems
requires an unlimited source of sulfate and the ability to transport rapidly the sulfate below the
sediment-water interface to the site of sulfate reduction.

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Closed-system and open-system behavior, and the gradations between these two extremes,
will produce distinctive frequency distributions in the resultant 34S values of the pyrite. Seal
and Wandless (2003) modeled the spectrum of distribution patterns using a combination of
Rayleigh and mixing equations in the context of seawater-sulfate reduction during Ordovician
time (Fig. 5a). End-member open system behavior produces a sharp mode that corresponds
to the 1000lnSO4-H2S valuein their example, 55, which was based on the difference
between the inferred seawater composition (28) and the lowest 34S value from pyrites in
sedimentary rock near the Bald Mountain massive sulfide deposit in northern Maine (27;
Fig. 5b). In contrast, end-member closed system behavior does not produce a mode; instead,
a flat distribution results from the continued depletion of the sulfate reservoir (Figs. 3 and 5).
When diffusive transport of sulfate is just half the rate of reduction, distributions lacking a
mode result. When the rate of diffusive transport and reduction are equal, a skewed distribution
with a distinct mode is produced. As advective transport exceeds the rate of reduction and
diffusive transport, similar skewed distributions are produced with decreasing ranges of values
until end-member open-system conditions are reached.
Abiotic (thermochemical) reduction of aqueous sulfate through high-temperature (200
to 350 C) interactions with Fe2+ (fayalite and magnetite) can be modeled as an equilibrium
Rayleigh process (Shanks et al. 1981). The 34S of residual aqueous sulfate increases during
reduction in accordance with published equilibrium fractionation factors (Ohmoto and
Lasaga 1982; Table 1). Similarly, Sakai et al. (1980) found that sulfur isotope fractionations
associated with thermochemical reduction of dissolved sulfate through reaction with olivine
(XFo = 0.90) at 400 C produces results consistent with equilibrium exchange between sulfate
and sulfide. Orr (1974) and Kiyosu (1980) documented sulfur isotopic effects associated with
thermochemical reduction of sulfate because of the interaction with organic matter, and found
that sulfate-sulfide kinetic fractionation was less than 10.
Sulfide oxidation. The oxidative weathering of sulfide minerals to form sulfate minerals
or aqueous sulfate is a quantitative, unidirectional process that produces negligible sulfurisotope fractionation. The 34S of resulting sulfate is indistinguishable from that of the parent
sulfide mineral; likewise, the isotopic composition of residual sulfide minerals is unaffected
(Gavelin et al. 1960; Nakai and Jensen 1964; Field 1966; Rye et al. 1992). Gavelin et al.
(1960) and Field (1966) documented similar sulfur isotope compositions among hypogene
sulfide ore minerals and various associated supergene sulfate minerals. A similar conclusion
was reached regarding the relationship of aqueous sulfate with sulfide minerals in acid mine
drainage settings. Taylor and Wheeler (1994) and Seal (2003) found no discernible difference
between 34S in the parent sulfides and the associated dissolved sulfate. In contrast, the oxygen
Figure 5 (on facing page). Hypothetical sulfur isotope composition of sedimentary pyrites formed under
different rates of sulfate transport relative to sulfate reduction. Modified from Seal and Wandless (2003).
(a) Sulfur isotope evolution of sedimentary pyrite related to bacterial sulfate reduction and diffusive and
advective transport into pore spaces below the sediment-water interface for conditions approximating the
inferred seafloor environment of Bald Mountain (Maine). Calculations were made at reduction steps of
0.282 mmol of SO4. Calculations for no diffusion of sulfate into the system are identical to closed-system
Rayleigh behavior. For calculations with the rate of diffusion less than the rate of reduction, the sulfate
supply will become exhausted, resulting in the most positive 34S values for pyrite near the last reduction
steps. Calculations were terminated after 67.4 mmol of SO4 was reduced, to reflect the amount of organic
carbon available for reduction in typical marine sediments. Note that only in cases where the rate of
reduction is faster than the rate of diffusion is the 34S value for pyrite found to be higher than for coeval
seawater. For conditions where the rate of advective transport is greater than the rate of reduction, the
isotopic evolution is modeled as mixtures of residual sulfate and pristine seawater sulfate (curves labeled
XSW = 0.0 to 1.0). (b) Hypothetical histograms for the sulfur isotope composition of sedimentary pyrites for
various rates of sulfate reduction and sulfate transport by diffusion and advection, compared to the isotopic
composition of pyrites from the graphitic argillite found at the Bald Mountain deposit, Maine (Seal and
Wandless 2003). All isotopic values are given in permil (VCDT).

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

647

290

a
Diffusion = 0

250
210

34S

170
130
90
Middle Ordovician
Seawater Sulfate

50

Diff

ion

educt

0%R

=5
usion

Diffusion = Reduction
Xsw = 0.0

10
-30

Xsw = 0.5
Xsw= 1.0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

SO4 Reacted (mmol)


200

Xsw = 1.0 (Open System)

150
100
50
40

20

Frequency

Xsw = 0.5

Seawater Sulfate

30

10
30

Xsw = 0.0
Diffusion = Reduction

20
10
10

Diffusion = 1/2 Reduction

10

Diffusion = 0 (Closed System)

10
0
-30

Carbonaceous Argillite

-10

10

30

50

34S
Figure 5. Caption on facing page.

70

90

110

648

Seal

isotope composition of sulfate derived from the oxidative weathering of sulfide minerals
shows significant variations depending upon the oxygen isotopic composition and pH of the
associated water, and the oxidizing agent (i.e., oxygen or ferric iron), among other factors
(Taylor and Wheeler 1994; Seal 2003).
Mechanisms of sulfide precipitation. Precipitation mechanisms for sulfide minerals and
their associated environment can have significant affects on the sulfur isotopic fractionation
between minerals, as discussed by Ohmoto and Goldhaber (1997). For simple sulfides such as
ZnS, PbS and Fe1xS, the relative proportions of metal and H2S are important. These minerals
can be precipitated through simple cooling, dilution to destabilize chloride complexes, or acid
neutralization. Under conditions where the molalities of dissolved metals exceed that of H2S,
as is commonly found during precipitation of monometallic ores, disequilibrium fractionations
are expected where the observed fractionation is less than that expected under equilibrium
conditions. This discordance is due to the fact that sulfur needs to be obtained at the site of
sulfide deposition. The mineral that reaches saturation first will consume a significant portion
of the H2S reservoir causing a shift through Rayleigh processes in the isotopic composition
the residual H2S available for later minerals. Sulfide minerals from polymetallic ores formed
from fluids where the concentration of H2S greatly exceeds those of the metals, generally show
equilibrium fractionation between simple sulfides because of their precipitation resulted from
being mutually saturated rather than from one metal becoming exhausted in the fluid so that
next metal can reach saturation.
The precipitation of pyrite and chalcopyrite is more complex because it typically requires
an oxidation step in addition to other depositional mechanisms (Ohmoto and Goldhaber 1997).
For example, pyrite has disulfide (S22) rather than sulfide (S2) anion units in its structure.
Likewise, chalcopyrite precipitation can commonly involve oxidation-reductions reactions of
iron and copper. Replacement is another important mechanism for the formation of chalcopyrite
where the isotopic composition may be inherited partly, or wholly, from the precursor mineral.
Thus, because of the greater complexity of precipitation mechanisms for pyrite and chalcopyrite,
equilibrium isotopic fractionations with other sulfide minerals are less likely.
Disproportionation of SO2. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is the most important oxidized sulfur
species in high fO2 magmatic-hydrothermal systems; H2S is the dominant reduced sulfur
species. Upon cooling below ~400 C, the SO2 undergoes hydrolysis or disproportionation
described by the reaction:
4 H2O + 4 SO2 H2S + 3 H+ + 3 HSO4

(20)

producing H2S and SO42 (Holland 1965; Burnham and Ohmoto 1980). The isotopic effects
associated with the disproportionation of SO2 will be discussed below in the sections of
porphyry and epithermal mineral deposits.

Mass-independent fractionation processes


Non mass-dependent fractionation or mass-independent fractionation refers to processes
that cause variations in the abundances of isotopes that are independent of their masses. In
mass-dependent fractionation, variations in 34S/32S should be approximately twice those of
33 32
S/ S, and approximately half those of 36S/32S (Hulston and Thode 1965a); likewise, the
fractionation of 17O/16O should be approximately half that of 18O/16O (Bigeleisen and Mayer
1947; Urey 1947). On geochemical plots of one isotopic ratio versus another, for example 33S
versus 34S, or 17O versus 18O, samples that have experienced mass-dependent fractionation
processes would fall along a line known as a mass-fractionation line, which has a slope
corresponding to the relative mass difference between the two ratios. The Earth-Moon system
has characteristic mass-fractionation lines for sulfur and oxygen isotopes because all of the
isotopes are well mixed in these bodies. Deviations from these lines, or isotope anomalies

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

649

reflect mass-independent fractionation processes. For sulfur isotopes, these deviations are
expressed as non-zero 33S and 36S values, which are defined respectively as:

34S
33S = 33S 1000 1

1000

0.515

34S
36S = 36S 1000 1

1000

1.91

(21)

(22)

where 0.515 and 1.91 are the approximate slopes on the respective - diagrams, and represent
deviations from the terrestrial fractionation line.
Some of the earliest identified isotopic anomalies were found in the oxygen isotope
compositions of meteorites, which can be interpreted to reflect heterogeneity in the early
history of the solar system (Clayton 1986). In fact, most meteorite types fall off the terrestrial
oxygen isotope mass-fractionation line. Sulfur isotopic anomalies in meteorites, discussed
below, are less impressive.
Photochemical processes in the upper atmosphere have been found to cause massindependent fractionations in sulfur and oxygen isotopes (Farquhar and Wing 2003; Rumble
2005). Sulfur isotope anomalies, presumably derived from upper atmospheric ultraviolet
radiation-induced photochemical processes, have been identified in pyrite, pyrrhotite,
chalcopyrite, and galena, in addition to sulfate minerals, in the Archean geologic record
(Farquhar et al. 2000a; Hu et al. 2003; Mojzsis et al. 2003; Ono et al. 2003; Bekker et al.
2004). Prior to 2.4 Ga, sulfide and sulfate values from a variety of geologic settings are
variably anomalous, with 33S values for sulfides and sulfates ranging from 2.5 to 8.1
(Farquhar et al. 2000a; Ono et al. 2003; Rumble 2005). Since 2.4 Ga, samples have a much
more limited range of 33S from 0.5 to 0.7 (Fig. 6; Savarino et al. 2003; Bekker et al.
2004). The abrupt change in the magnitude of the anomalous mass-independent fractionations
around 2.4 Ga has been interpreted as reflecting the development of an oxygenated
atmosphere. The increase in the partial pressure of oxygen would have been conducive to
the development of an ozone layer, which would have shielded lower parts of the atmosphere
from photochemical processes induced by ultraviolet radiation; in addition, the associated
lower abundances of reactive, more reduced sulfur species in the atmosphere may have also
contributed to the abrupt end of mass-independent anomalies (Farquhar et al. 2000a; Pavlov
and Kasting 2002; Farquhar and Wing 2003; Bekker et al. 2004).

10
8
6

33S

Figure 6. Age distribution of sulfur


isotope anomalies in sedimentary
rocks. Modified from Rumble
(2005), and includes data from
Bekker et al. (2004), Farquhar et al.
(2000a), Hu et al. (2003), Mojzsis et
al. (2003), and Ono et al. (2003).

4
2
0
-2
-4
0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 3.5 4.0 4.5

Age (Ga)

650

Seal
GEOCHEMICAL ENVIRONMENTS

The scientific literature concerning sulfur isotopes from sulfide minerals is voluminous,
and that pertaining to mineral deposits is overwhelming. Therefore, the following sections on
specific geochemical environments will focus on examples to illustrate important aspects of
sulfur isotope geochemistry from high- and low-temperature settings. An attempt was made to
balance coverage of pioneering studies with that of emerging ideas and applications of sulfur
isotopes from sulfide minerals.

Meteorites
Sulfur isotope data have provided a variety of insights into the origins of the Earth
and the solar system as recorded by meteorites. Sulfur isotope compositions have been
determined for a variety of sulfide minerals in meteorites, including troilite, pyrrhotite, pyrite,
chalcopyrite, pentlandite, oldhamite (CaS), alabandite (MnS), and daubreelite (FeCr2S4)
among others, in addition to sulfate, sulfur in solid solution in native iron, and a variety of
species that are extractable with various solvents. The earliest researchers investigating the
sulfur isotope composition of meteorites found remarkably constant and fairly homogeneous
compositions among all types of meteorites, with the 34S of most falling between 2.5 and
2.5 (Fig. 7; Macnamara and Thode 1950; Hulston and Thode 1965a; Monster et al. 1965;
Kaplan and Hulston 1966) which is in stark contrast to the oxygen isotope compositions of
meteorites, which varies widely (Clayton 1986). In fact, it was this restricted compositional
range, particularly for troilite from iron meteorites, that led to the designation of Canyon
Diablo troilite as the basis for the sulfur isotope scale. The isotopic composition of meteoritic
sulfur is also used as a reference point for the bulk earth from which to evaluate global scale
fractionations in the sulfur cycle.
Local evidence has been found for secondary alteration of the sulfur isotopic composition
in a limited number of meteorites that reflects aqueous processes occurring on the parent
bodies from which the meteorites came. In the SNC type meteorites, which likely originated
on Mars, Shearer et al. (1996) identified vug-filling pyrite with unusually high 34S between
4.8 and 7.8, probably reflecting Martian hydrothermal alteration. Greenwood et al. (2000a)
0.80
0.60
0.40

Iron (troilite)
Iron (metal)
Carbonaceous Chondrite
Ordinary Chondrite
Ureilite
Misc. Achondrite
SNC

0.20

33S

0.00
-0.20
-0.40
-0.60
-0.80
-10.0

-5.0

0.0

5.0

10.0

34S
Figure 7. Sulfur isotope composition of meteorites plotted in terms of 33S and 34S. See text for sources
of data. Dashed lines indicate 0. Isotopic values are given in permil (VCDT).

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

651

also found 34S values in Martian meteorites ranging from 6.1 to 4.9, that were consistent
with hydrothermal alteration, in pyrrhotite, pyrite, and chalcopyrite, some of which was
vein filling. McSween et al. (1997) found texturally unique pyrrhotite and pentlandite in a
carbonaceous chondrite having 34S values between 4.2 and 1.1, and 5.7 and 3.0,
respectively, which were interpreted to be the result of alteration on the asteroid on which
the chondrites originated. In another carbonaceous chondrite, Monster et al. (1965) found
sulfur isotopic compositions for sulfide (34S = 2.6), native sulfur (34S = 1.5) and sulfate
(34S = 1.3) that clearly reflect disequilibrium conditions.
Mass-independent sulfur isotopic anomalies have also been identified in meteorites. Such
anomalies can be generated by mixing of sulfur from different nucleosynthetic reservoirs
(Clayton and Ramadurai 1977), cosmic-ray induced reactions involving iron (Hulston and
Thode 1965a; Gao and Thiemens 1991), and photochemical and other chemical reactions
(Farquhar et al. 2000b). Evidence for mixing of different nucleosynthetic reservoirs has been
elusive in sulfur isotopes. Rees and Thode (1977) found a 1 33S anomaly in the Allende
carbonaceous chondrite, but subsequent researchers analyzing Allende were unable to find
additional evidence (Gao and Thiemens 1993a). Enstatite chondrites and ordinary chondrites,
which come from other primitive asteroids, generally lack sulfur isotopic anomalies (Gao and
Thiemens 1993b). The most compelling evidence for nebular sulfur heterogeneity is the small,
but distinguishable 33S anomalies (33S = 0.042) found in ureilites, a type of achondrite
associated with carbonaceous chondrites (Farquhar et al. 2000c). However, Rai et al. (2005)
attributed mass-independent anomalies in other achrondritic meteorites to photochemical
processes in the early solar nebula. The sulfur dissolved in the metallic phase of iron
meteorites, which are the cores of differentiated asteroids, can have 33S and 36S values up to
2.7 and 21.5, respectively, that are consistent with cosmic-ray induced spallation reactions,
and have a characteristic 36S/ 33S ratio of ~8 (Gao and Thiemens 1991).
The largest mass-independent anomalies, not from metallic or organic phases in
meteorites, were found in Martian (SNC) meteorites where 33S ranges from 0.302 to 0.071
(Fig. 7); 36S values range from 0.0 to 2.6 (Farquhar et al. 2000b). Farquhar et al. (2000b)
attributed these anomalies to UV-induced photochemical reactions in the Martian atmosphere.
Greenwood et al. (2000b) suggested that an additional component of the 33S anomaly may have
resulted from inherited nebular material in the Martian regolith that, unlike on Earth, was not
homogenized into the bulk planet due to the lack of tectonic processes on Mars.

Marine sediments
The modern oceanic sulfur cycle reflects the mass balance among inputs from the erosion
of sulfides and sulfates on the continents, removal through the formation of diagenetic sulfide
minerals, and evaporative precipitation of sulfate locally along the margins of the oceans
(Claypool et al. 1980). Volcanic outgassing and subduction of sedimentary rocks also play
significant roles in the addition and subtraction, respectively, of sulfur relative to the oceanic
reservoir, particularly prior to the presence of an oxygenated atmosphere (Canfield 2004).
The sulfur isotopic composition of sedimentary sulfide minerals has been intimately linked
to the sulfur isotopic composition of dissolved sulfate in the oceans, at least since ~2.4
Gathe inferred onset of significant partial pressures of oxygen in the atmosphere (Farquhar
et al. 2000a; Pavlov and Kasting 2002; Mojzsis et al. 2003). The link between the isotopic
compositions of dissolved sulfate and sedimentary sulfides is caused by the activity of sulfatereducing bacteria as discussed above.
Modern seawater sulfate has a globally homogenous 34S of 21.0 0.2 (Rees et al.
1978). In contrast, the 34S of modern sedimentary sulfide, mostly pyrite, is quite variable,
depending upon setting and ranging between 50 and 20, although most values are negative
(Fig. 8; Chambers 1982; Slen et al. 1993; Strauss 1997). This range includes anoxic settings

652

Seal
Seawater Sulfate

Intertidal
Baltic Sea
Black Sea - surface sediments
Black Sea - deep sediments
Framvaren Fjord
California Basins
Deep Sea
Shallow Subtidal

-60

-40

-20

34S

20

40

Figure 8. Range of sulfur isotopic values of sedimentary sulfides from a variety of settings compared to
seawater sulfate (modified from Strauss 1997). Isotopic values are given in permil (VCDT).

such as the Black Sea and the Framvaren fjord (Norway), and oxic settings ranging from the
deep sea to shallow subtidal and intertidal settings (Chambers 1982; Strauss 1997).
Marine sulfate as preserved in evaporite deposits and disseminated in marine sediments
provides a robust record of past variations in the isotopic composition of sulfate in the oceans.
It has pronounced secular trends in both 34S and 18O, which can be interpreted in terms of
these processes (Holser et al. 1979; Claypool et al. 1980). The secular variations in the isotopic
compositions of sedimentary sulfide minerals is less distinctive because Rayleigh fractionation
of sulfur isotopes during diagenetic bacterial sulfate reduction typically causes a wide range of
largely negative 34S values within a given sedimentary unit (Hayes et al. 1992; Strauss 1997;
Canfield 2004). Numerous studies have investigated or reviewed the sulfur and oxygen isotope
systematics of modern and ancient marine sulfate and sulfide (Holser et al. 1979; Claypool et
al. 1980; Hayes et al. 1992; Strauss 1997; Seal et al. 2000a; Canfield 2004).
Ancient seawater sulfate had mean 34S values that varied from around 4 at 3.4 Ga,
to a high of 33 during Cambrian time, to a Phanerozoic low of about 10 during Permian
and Triassic time, and ultimately to a modern value around 21 (Fig. 9). The mean 18O of
marine evaporitic sulfate has varied from around 17 at 900 Ma to a Phanerozoic low of 10
during Permian time, to a modern value of 13. The 18O of modern seawater sulfate is also
homogeneous throughout the oceans with a value of 9.5 (Longinelli and Craig 1967; Nriagu
et al. 1991). The limited range of sulfur and oxygen isotope compositions for any given time
in geologic history results from the rapid mixing time of seawater (~1,000 years) relative to
the residence time of sulfate in seawater (8 106 years; Holland 1978).
One of the most important milestones in the sulfur cycle of the Earth was the development
of an oxic atmosphere around 2.4 Ga (Farquhar et al. 2000a; Pavlov and Kasting 2002;
Mojzsis et al. 2003; Bekker et al. 2004). Prior to that time, both sedimentary sulfides and
sulfates had limited ranges in 34S and clustered near 0 (Fig. 9), the inferred value of the
bulk Earth because, in the absence of significant concentrations of oxygen in the atmosphere
and, therefore, sulfate in seawater, there were few mechanisms available to fractionate sulfur
isotopes. As atmospheric concentrations of oxygen increased, the 34S of seawater sulfate
increased and that of sedimentary sulfides decreased (Fig. 9). Coincident with the divergence
of sulfate and sulfide 34S values was the abrupt disappearance of mass-independent sulfur
isotope anomalies in sedimentary sulfides and sulfates (Fig. 6), presumably because of the
development of an ozone layer which had the effect of shielding the atmosphere from UVinduced photochemical reactions known to cause mass-independent anomalies (Farquhar et
al. 2000a; Bekker et al. 2004).

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

Coal

0.0

1.0

Age (Ga)

Another abrupt change in the sulfur


isotope compositions of sedimentary
sulfides and seawater sulfate occurred
around 0.7 Ga when sedimentary sulfide
34S values became more negative and
those for seawater sulfate became more
variable (Fig. 9). Canfield and Teske
(1996) and Canfield (2004) interpreted
this change as reflecting a greater level of
oxygenation of the oceanic water column,
even though episodes of deep water
anoxia occurred periodically throughout
the Phanerozoic (Leggett 1980).

653

2.0

Seawater
sulfate

3.0
Period average
Formation average

4.0
-60

-40

-20

20

40

The sulfur geochemistry of coal, in34S


cluding its stable isotopes, has been an important research topic because of its use in
Figure 9. Secular variations of the 34S of sulfide
evaluating coal quality and environmental
in marine sedimentary rocks and in seawater sulfate
(modified from Canfield 2004). Heavy line shows the
concerns such as acid rain and acid mine
composition of seawater sulfate. All isotopic values are
drainage. Sulfur isotope studies have been
given in permil (VCDT).
published for sulfide minerals in coals from
the USA (Price and Shieh 1979; Westgate
and Anderson 1982; Hackley and Anderson 1986; Whelan et al. 1988; Lyons et al. 1989; Spiker
et al. 1994), Australia (Smith and Batts 1974; Smith et al. 1982), China (Dai et al. 2002), Japan (Shimoyama et al. 1990) and the Czech Republic (Bouka and Peek 1999) among others.
Isotopic data are available for a variety of sulfur species including pyrite, marcasite, sphalerite,
sulfate (mostly secondary), elemental sulfur, and organic sulfur. Collectively, the coals exhibit a
wide range of 34S values for pyrite (and marcasite), sphalerite, and organic sulfur ranging from
52.6 to 43.1, 14.6 to 18.7, and 18.7 to 30. 6, respectively (Fig. 10).
Sulfur in coal is generally interpreted as coming either from sulfur in source plant
material or from the bacterial reduction of aqueous sulfate. Sulfides derived from bacterial
sulfate reduction may form near the time of original deposition of the peat, during diagenesis,
or during coalification (Spiker et al. 1994). Most of the sulfur in low-sulfur coals generally
is organicly bound sulfur, which has been interpreted to be derived from the original plant
material (Price and Shieh 1979; Hackley and Anderson 1986). The isotopic composition of
primary plant sulfur should be similar to the isotopic composition of its sourcedissolved
sulfatebecause the assimilation of sulfur by plants during growth only results in minimal
fractionation of sulfur isotopes (Chambers and Trudinger 1979). Most modern oxygenated
fresh waters have 34S values of dissolved sulfate ranging between 0 and 10 (Nriagu et al.
1991), which may be analogous to the source waters. Price and Shieh (1979) and Hackley and
Anderson (1986) found 34S values for organic sulfur from low-sulfur coal were generally
between 0 and 10, with no correlation with the 34S of associated pyrite. However, Price and
Shieh (1986) noted a strong correlation between the 34S for pyrite and organic sulfur, which
they interpreted to reflect the post-depositional mineralization of organic matter associated
with the activity of sulfate-reducing bacteria. This correlation between the 34S of pyrite and
organic sulfur (OS) in coal and oil shale can be described by the equation:
34SPy = 1.16 34SOS 4.8

(23)

which implies that the pyrite-organic sulfur isotope fractionation (Py-OS) is 4.8 (Fig. 11).
The data compiled in Figure 11 indicate that this equation provides a reasonable description

654

Seal
Colorado & Wyoming
Pyrite (n = 24)
Organic Sulfur (n = 53)

Appalachian Basin
Pyrite (n = 30)
Organic Sulfur (n = 11)

Illinois & Forest City Basins


Pyrite (n = 102)
Sphalerite (n = 107)
Organic sulfur (n = 43)

Japan
Pyrite (n = 39)
Organic Sulfur (n = 38)

China
Pyrite (n = 16)
Organic Sulfur (n = 12)

Australia
Pyrite (n = 18)
Organic Sulfur (n = 31)

Czech Republic
Pyrite (n = 22)

-60

-50

-40

-30

-20

-10

10

20

30

40

34S

50

Figure 10. Range of sulfur isotope values from pyrite, sphalerite, and organicly bound sulfur from coals
throughout the world. See text for sources of data. Isotopic values are given in permil (VCDT).

50
40
e

Pric

34Ssulfide

20

hie
&S

986

h (1

30
10
0
-10

Illinois
Illinois (sphalerite)
Wyoming & Colorado
Pennsylvania
Japan
China
Australia

-20
-30
-40
-50
-60
-20

-10

10

20

30

40

34Sorganic sulfur
Figure 11. Sulfur isotopic composition of coal in terms of the 34S of pyrite and organic bound sulfur. The
line describing the covariation of 34SPyrite and 34SOrgainc S is from Price and Shieh (1986). Isotopic values
are given in permil (VCDT).

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

655

of sulfide and organic-sulfur sulfur isotopes from coal beds around the world. Shimoyama et
al. (1990) identified correlations with slopes ranging between 1.38 and 1.44, which require
some additional process beyond Rayleigh fractionation during bacterial sulfate reduction to
explain their data from Japanese coals. Mixing between primary sulfur from the original plant
material, and sulfide derived from bacterial sulfate reduction, is a possible explanation.
Sulfur isotopes from sulfides are also useful for fingerprinting the incursion of seawater
into coal-forming systems. Two general isotopic profiles have been identified, as described by
Smith and Batts (1974). In the first case, where the rate of bacterial sulfate reduction is greater
than the rate of downward sulfate supply, as documented in the Pelton coal seam (Australia),
the total mass of pyrite (~0.8 wt%) and its 34S (~25) are high near the top of the coal
bed, but decrease rapidly with depth (<0.1 wt% and ~3, respectively). This pattern was
interpreted to reflect rapid, quantitative reduction of isotopically heavy seawater sulfate at
the top of the section, giving way to plant-derived sulfur at depth. The second case, where
the rate of downward supply is greater than that for reduction, the pyrite at top has a lower
34S value due to the kinetic fractionation between sulfate and sulfide during bacterial sulfate
reduction, but increases progressively with depth due to Rayleigh processes. Smith and Batts
(1974) observed this pattern in the Garrick seam (Australia). Lyons et al. (1989) observed a
similar pattern in a more detailed data set from the Lower Bakerstown coal bed (Maryland,
U.S.A.) (Fig. 12). Whelan et al. (1988) noted a similarity between the isotopic compositions
of sphalerite in coal beds in the northern part of the Forest City Basin and those in the nearby
Upper Mississippi Valley Zn-Pb deposits, and suggested that some of the sulfur in the coal
beds may have been derived from basinal brines.

Mantle and igneous rocks


Insights into the sulfur isotopic composition of the mantle can be obtained from mantle
xenoliths, diamonds, and primitive igneous rocks, presumably derived from the mantle.

Depth below top of coal (cm)

20

Medium Gray Shale

Pyritic Claystone

0
-20

Impure Coal

Claystone Parting

-40
-60

Cleat
Coal

-80
-100
-20

Underclay

-10

10

20

30

40

34S
Figure 12. Sulfur isotope composition of pyrite from a cross section through the Bakerstown coal bed,
Maryland, USA. (modified from Lyons et al.1989). The section is interpreted to represent the downward
incursion of seawater and the associated bacterial sulfate reduction. Compare profile with sulfide curve in
Figure 3 at various fractions of reduction (H2S @ f). Isotopic values are given in permil (VCDT).

656

Seal

Sulfur isotope studies of igneous rocks unrelated to sulfide-bearing mineral deposits are
limited, but shed light on the processes of partial melting and assimilation of country rocks.
Sulfide minerals that have been analyzed from mantle and other igneous settings unrelated to
hydrothermal activity include pyrrhotite, pyrite, pentlandite, chalcopyrite, monosulfide solid
solution, and intermediate solid solution.
The sulfur isotopic composition of the mantle has traditionally been considered to be 0
2, similar to meteoritic compositions (Thode et al. 1961), but evidence suggests that the
sulfur isotope composition is heterogeneous. The 34S values of sulfide inclusions in mantle
xenoliths (34S = 1.3 3.8), sulfide in mid-ocean ridge (MORB; 34S = 0.3 2.3)
and oceanic island basalts (OIB; 34S = 1.0 1.9), both of which are thought to represent
mantle melts, and related gabbros are quite variable (Sakai et al. 1984; Chaussidon et al. 1989;
Torssander 1989) but cluster around 0 (Fig. 13). For the basalt, some of the variability in
sulfide 34S values can be attributed to isotopic exchange between sulfide and sulfate and
variable sulfide:sulfate ratios in the magmas (Sakai et al. 1984).
The isotopic composition of sulfide inclusions in diamonds are remarkably variable
having an average composition of 34S = 1.2 5.6, and a range from 11 to 14 (Fig.
13; Chaussidon et al. 1987; Eldridge et al. 1991; Farquhar et al. 2002). Peridotitic diamonds,
generally considered to have a strictly mantle provenance, typically have 13C values around
7 and sulfide inclusions with 34S values clustering between 5 and 5 (Eldridge et al.
1995). In contrast, eclogitic diamonds, which have been interpreted to reflect the subduction
of biogenic carbon and sulfur into the mantle (Eldridge et al. 1995), have 13C values reaching
below 30 and 34S values of sulfide inclusion spanning the entire range observed in diamonds
(11 to 14). This interpretation is further supported by Farquhar et al. (2002) who found
mass-independent anomalies in the sulfur isotope composition of sulfide inclusions hosted by
eclogitic diamonds that suggest that sulfur involved in Archean atmospheric processes has been
transferred to the mantle. Thus, the wide range of 34S and 13C values associated with eclogitic
diamonds attests to the inefficiency of mixing processes within the mantle.

Indian Granites & Syenites


Ilmenite-Series Granites
Magnetite-Series Granites
Andesites
Mafic Intrusions
Iceland Basalts
MORB
OIB
Diamonds
Kimberlites
Mantle Xenoliths
-15

-10

-5

34S

10

15

Figure 13. Range of 34S values for sulfides from mantle and oceanic and continental igneous settings. See
text for sources of data. Isotopic values are given in permil (VCDT).

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

657

The sulfur isotope variability found in all igneous rocks, from the most primitive to the
most evolved, appears to reflect the global sulfur cycle as moderated by oxidation reactions
because of the development of an oxygenated atmosphere, and reduction reactions because
of bacterial activity. The sulfur isotope compositions of continental and island arc basalts and
gabbros (34S = 1.0 3.2) are virtually indistinguishable from those from MORB and OIB
(Fig. 13; Ueda and Sakai 1984; Chaussidon et al. 1987). In contrast, andesites have slightly
higher 34S values (2.6 2.3; Rye et al. 1984; Luhr and Logan 2002). Granitoid rocks have
an average 34S value of 1.0 6.1, but range from 11 to 14.5, which presumably reflects
variable assimilation or partial melting of either pyritic sedimentary rocks with low 34S values,
or evaporites with high 34S values (Sasaki and Ishihara 1979; Ishihara and Sasaki 1989; Santosh
and Masuda 1991). Ishihara and Sasaki (1989) found that ilmenite-series granitoids, generally
regarded as having formed through partial melting of dominantly sedimentary protoliths, had
sulfide 34S values less than 0, whereas magnetite-series granitoids thought to originate from
dominantly igneous protoliths had 34S values greater than 0 (Fig. 13).

Magmatic sulfide deposits


Magmatic sulfide deposits are generally regarded to be those deposits that form as the
result of magmatic crystallization processes, typically prior to saturation with respect to an
aqueous phase. This summary focuses on magmatic Ni-Cu and related deposits associated with
mafic magmas, which generally formed as immiscible sulfide liquids during the crystallization
of a mafic melt. These deposits are important resources for Ni, Cu, and platinum-group
elements (PGE). Magmatic sulfide ore-forming systems can be divided into sulfur-poor and
sulfur-rich end members where the sulfur-poor systems are the more important sources of PGE
and the sulfur-rich systems are the more important sources of Ni and Cu (Ripley and Li 2003).
Examples discussed in this section include the Duluth Complex (Minnesota), the Stillwater
Complex (Montana), the Bushveld Complex (South Africa), Sudbury (Ontario), Voiseys Bay
(Labrador), and Norilsk (Russia). General aspects of sulfur geochemistry and specific aspects
of sulfur isotope geochemistry associated with magmatic sulfide deposits have been reviewed
by Ohmoto (1986) and more recently Ripley and Li (2003); their research forms the basis of
the following discussion. Ripley and Li (2003) described hypothetical mixing relationships for
sulfur isotopes and various metals between mantle-derived magmas and country rocks in the
context of magmatic sulfide deposits.
Sulfur isotope data from sulfide minerals are a powerful tool for identifying sulfur
contamination of the magma through interactions with the country rocks, if the sulfur isotopic
composition of the country rocks was significantly different from the magma. In sulfur-poor
systems, such as the Merensky Reef of the Bushveld Complex and the J-M Reef of the Stillwater
Complex, in which sulfur requirements were more easily accommodated by solubility of sulfur
in mafic magmas, the 34S values of sulfide minerals have a limited range and cluster around
mantle values (i.e., 0; Fig. 14) (Buchanan et al. 1981; Zientek and Ripley 1990; Ripley and
Li 2003). In contrast, in sulfur-rich systems, such as the Duluth Complex and Norilsk, the 34S
values have a wide range and are significantly positive, suggesting contamination by crustal
sources (Fig. 14; Ripley and Al-Jassar 1987; Li et al. 2003; Ripley et al. 2003).
The ability of sulfur isotopes to fingerprint crustal contamination of magmas associated
with magmatic sulfide deposits depends upon the isotopic composition of the country rocks. In
high-sulfur systems such as Sudbury and Voiseys Bay, the 34S values of sulfide minerals have
a limited range of near mantle values (Thode et al. 1962; Schwarcz 1973; Ripley et al. 1999;
Ripley et al. 2002; Fig. 14). At Sudbury, the 34S values of Archean metasedimentary rocks in
the footwall of the deposits are near zero (Thode et al. 1962), making sulfur isotope evidence
of crustal contamination of the magma equivocal at best. However, Schwarcz (1973) noted
small, but discernable differences in the mean 34S values of magmatic sulfide deposits near
Sudbury. He also documented a general decrease in the 34S values of the ore bodies moving

658

Seal

Sulfide-rich
Noril'sk
Mineralized
Barren

Duluth Complex

Figure 14. Range of 34S values


for sulfides from magmatic
sulfide deposits (modified from
Ripley and Li 2003). Note
greater range for sulfide-rich
deposits, suggesting crustal
contamination of magmas.
See text for sources of data.
Isotopic values are given in
permil (VCDT).

Sulfide-rich
Sulfide-poor

Sudbury
Voisey's Bay

Sulfide-poor
Stillwater Complex
Merensky Reef
Kimberlites
-10

-5

10

15

20

25

34S
from the country rocks to the intrusion, which supports the idea of crustal contamination of
the magma. At Voiseys Bay, Ripley et al. (1999) found that the country rocks had a wide
range of 34S values, but averaged near zero. Like Schwarcz (1973), in the Sudbury camp they
also noted small variations in the isotopic composition of various mineralized zones. With a
combination of sulfur, oxygen, and carbon isotope data and Se/S ratios from sulfides, Ripley et
al. (1999, 2002) were able to define the role of crustal contamination at Voiseys Bay.

Porphyry and epithermal deposits


Porphyry deposits. Porphyry deposits formed from hydrothermal fluids exsolved from
granitic magmas as they cooled with variable involvement of meteoric waters. They typically
are large tonnage, low grade deposits. The different classes of porphyry deposits are important
sources of Cu, Mo, W, Sn, and Au, as well as other elements. From the perspective of the sulfur
isotope composition of sulfide minerals, more significant and interesting isotopic variations
can be found in magmatic hydrothermal systems having higher oxidation states, lower pH
values, or both, as opposed to near-neutral or more reducing systems. Hydrothermal systems
associated with more oxidized magmas, such as I-type granitoids, generally show more sulfur
isotopic variations because SO2 and H2S are present in the fluids in subequal proportions as
opposed to those associated with S-type granitoids which are dominated by H2S (Burnham
and Ohmoto 1980). Crustal contamination of the magmas, as discussed for magmatic sulfide
deposits, can also affect the sulfur isotopic composition of magmatic hydrothermal systems.
The sulfur isotope geochemistry of magmatic hydrothermal systems have been reviewed by
Ohmoto (1986), Rye (1993), Seal et al. (2000a) and, most recently, by Rye (2005).
In high-temperature magmatic hydrothermal settings, such as those for porphyry copper
deposits, many of the important processes contributing to sulfur isotope variations of sulfide
minerals can be illustrated on diagrams showing the 34S of coexisting sulfide and sulfate
minerals (Fifarek and Rye 2005; Rye 2005). These diagrams can provide information about the
temperature of hydrothermal activity and the SO42/H2S ratio of the fluid provided that: (1) the
SO42/ H2S ratio of the fluid remained constant; (2) the bulk sulfur isotopic composition of the
fluid (34SS) remained constant, and (3) the only cause of isotopic variations in the initial 34S
of the fluid was exchange between SO42 and H2S in the fluid. Pairs of coexisting sulfate and

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

659

sulfide minerals should fall along linear arrays having negative slopes ranging from vertical
to horizontal, the slope being defined by the SO42/H2S ratio of the fluid (Fig. 15). The line
intersects the line corresponding to zero sulfur isotope fractionation between SO42 and H2S at
the bulk isotopic composition of the system (34SS; Fig. 15). Isotherms plot as lines having
positive slopes of unity, the lower temperatures falling down and to the right. When 34Ssulfide
is plotted along the ordinate and 34Ssulfate plotted along the abscissa, a fluid having H2S as the
only sulfur species would plot as a horizontal line and a fluid with SO42 as the only sulfur
species would plot as a vertical line. These lines represent limiting conditions for hydrothermal
fluids; a line with a slope of 1 would have equal proportions of SO42 and H2S (SO4/ H2S = 1).
Natural settings seldom satisfy all of the conditions described above. Interpretation of natural
data sets can be complicated by fluctuating fluid compositions, kinetic processes related to
isotopic exchange and precipitation, and mixing of multiple sulfur reservoirs, among other
processes (Shelton and Rye 1982; Ohmoto 1986; Krouse et al. 1990).
The isotopic characteristics of sulfate and sulfide minerals from porphyry environments
suggest a general approach to equilibrium at elevated temperatures. Data from El Salvador,
Chile (Field and Gustafson 1976), Gasp, Quebec (Shelton and Rye 1982), Papua New Guinea
(Eastoe 1983), and Butte, Montana (Field et al. 2005) are plotted in Figure 16. In general,
the paired data plotted in Figure 16 suggest that equilibrium conditions were approximated
by these hydrothermal systems. Collectively, the data suggest that the bulk sulfur isotope
composition (34SS) of porphyry copper hydrothermal systems typically ranges between
1 and 8, and that the inferred temperature is between 315 and 730 C, consistent with

10
=

S
H2

34SH2S

-15

SO42-/H2S = 0

34SS=0
C
0
80 0 C
0
7 0 C
60 C
0
50
0

40

-20
00

SO42-/H2S = 1

SO42-/H2S =

-25
-5

34SS=5

2- O4

-5
-10

10
15
34
S

20

25

30

SO42-

Figure 15. Theoretical aspects of equilibrium fractionation of sulfur isotopes between sulfide and sulfate
in hydrothermal systems. Genetically related samples should define linear arrays due to cooling. These
arrays should project back to the 0 fractionation line at the bulk isotopic composition of the system as
represented by the dotted lines. The slope of the dotted lines reflects the SO42/H2S ratio of the hydrothermal
fluid. The range of slopes is limited by a horizontal line indicating all H2S and no SO42, and a vertical line
indicating all SO42 and no H2S; a line with a slope of unity indicates equal proportions of H2S and SO42
(modified from Rye 2005). Isotopic values are given in permil (VCDT).

660

Seal
10

34SS=5

5
0

S
H2

SO42-/H2S = 0

2- O4

-10
-15

C
0
80 0 C
70 0 C
60 C
0
50
C
0
40

-20
0

30

-25
-5

SO42-/H2S = 1
El Salvador
Gasp
Panguna
Frieda
Butte

SO42-/H2S =

34SH2S

-5

10
15
34
S

20

25

30

SO42-

Figure 16. Plot of 34S of sulfide versus sulfate for porphyry hydrothermal systems (modified from
Rye 2005). The different shapes of symbols are for different deposits. The shading of the symbols is for
different sulfide minerals: black and gray, pyrite; white, chalcopyrite. See text for sources of data. Short
dashed lines are regressed to the data from individual deposits by Rye (2005). Isotopic values are given in
permil (VCDT).

temperature estimates from porphyry copper deposits based on other techniques such as fluid
inclusions (Rye 2005). The trends in 34Ssulfide and 34Ssulfate in Figure 16 also suggest that
porphyry copper hydrothermal systems have a range of oxidation states. Gasp is one of the
more sulfate-rich systems, and Panguna is one of the more sulfide-rich systems.
Many of the data from individual deposits define linear arrays, but some do not. Rye
(2005) noted that the linearity of the data varies from mineral to mineral. For example at El
Salvador the pyrite-anhydrite pairs define a line having a slope near unity, but the chalcopyriteanhydrite pairs do not (Fig. 16). This lack of correlation for the chalcopyrite data suggests that
chalcopyrite is more prone to retrograde re-equilibration than pyrite, which is consistent with
the known reactivities of these two sulfide minerals (Barton and Skinner 1979).
The interpretation of paired sulfide and sulfate data can include additional challenges,
Eastoe (1983) questioned the equation of bulk fluid compositions with the composition
of magmatic sulfur because of the complexities in the evolution of volatile phases from
magmas. In high temperature porphyry environments, Shelton and Rye (1982) suggested
that the discrepancies between fluid inclusion temperatures and sulfatesulfide sulfur isotope
temperatures may have resulted from the short time span between the disproportionation of
SO2 to SO42 and H2S, and the subsequent precipitation of sulfate as anhydrite.
Epithermal deposits. Epithermal deposits are hydrothermal mineral deposits that form
at shallow levels in the Earths crust. They form from magmatic water, meteoric water, or
mixtures of the two. Epithermal deposits can be divided into two types: acid-sulfate, and
adularia-sericite types (Heald et al. 1987). Of these two types, acid-sulfate deposits tend
to have more variation in the sulfur isotope composition of sulfide minerals because of the

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

661

presence of significant quantities of both sulfide and sulfate in the hydrothermal fluids at
the time of mineralization. Data for sulfide-sulfate mineral pairs from adularia-sericite type
deposits are limited. Accordingly, the following discussion will focus primarily on acid-sulfate
deposits. The stable isotope geochemistry of acid-sulfate deposits has been discussed by Rye
et al. (1992) and Rye (2005).
Common aspects of the sulfur geochemistry of epithermal deposits can be identified using
sulfur isotope data from pairs of sulfide and sulfate minerals. Paired sulfur isotope data from
acid-sulfate epithermal deposits are available from Julcani, Peru (Rye et al. 1992), Rodalquilar,
Spain (Arribas et al. 1995), Summitville, Colorado (Bethke et al. 2005), Pierina, Peru (Fifarek
and Rye 2005), and Tapajs, Brazil (Juliani et al. 2005). In addition, a single pair from the
Sunnyside, Colorado adularia-sericite type deposit is available (Casadevall and Ohmoto 1977).
Sulfide minerals for which data are available include pyrite, pyrrhotite, and chalcopyrite;
sulfate minerals include anhydrite, barite, alunite, and sulfate-bearing apatite. Figure 17 shows
the 34Ssulfide and 34Ssulfate values for these deposits. Compared to porphyry copper deposits,
the mineral pairs from epithermal deposits have a wider range of compositions, which reflects
the generally lower temperatures of precipitation. With the exception of the deposits for which
data are available from phenocrystic apatite (i.e., Summitville and Julcani), the data tend not
to define linear trends. Nevertheless, the range of values is consistent with hydrothermal
temperatures determined by other methods such as fluid inclusions, and suggest that the
compositions record equilibrium conditions. Thus, the lack of linear trends for data from a
given deposit may result from open-system behavior (i.e., boiling), which can alter the bulk
composition of the hydrothermal fluid. Acid-sulfate epithermal deposits form at shallow levels
in the Earths crust. Many are thought to be the apical parts of porphyry copper hydrothermal
systems (e.g., Lepanto, Philippines; Hedenquist et al. 1998).

10
5

S
H2

2- O4

34Ssulfide

-5
C
0 C
80 00 C
7 00 C
6 0
50
C
0
40

-10

-15

30

0
20

-20
-25

-5

Sunnyside
Summitville
Rodalquilar
Julcani
Tapajfis
Pierina

10

15

20

25

30

35

34Ssulfate
Figure 17. Plot of 34S of sulfide versus sulfate for epithermal hydrothermal systems. See text for sources of
data. The shaded field encompasses the data from porphyry deposits depicted in Figure 16 for comparison.
Note that the data from epithermal deposits imply lower temperatures than those for porphyry deposits, consistent with their inferred genetic relationships to intrusions. Isotopic values are given in permil (VCDT).

662

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Seafloor hydrothermal systems


Modern systems. The stable isotope characteristics of modern seafloor hydrothermal
systems from mid-ocean ridges have been summarized recently by Shanks et al. (1995),
Herzig et al. (1998), Seal et al. (2000a), and Shanks (2001). Sulfur isotope data are available
for a variety of sulfide minerals from seafloor hydrothermal systems including pyrite,
marcasite, pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite, bornite, cubanite, sphalerite and wurtzite, in addition to
vent fluid H2S. A summary of the range of 34S values from various vent systems is present
in Figure 18.
Igneous activity along submarine spreading centers causes hydrothermal convection that
instigates a series of geochemical processes defining the sulfur cycle of these settings. In
mid-ocean ridge hydrothermal systems, sulfide can be derived from three main sources: (1)
leaching from country rocks, both igneous and sedimentary; (2) thermochemical reduction
of seawater sulfate due to interaction with ferrous silicates and oxides, or with organic
matter; and (3) leaching of sulfide minerals in sediments that were produced by bacterial
sulfate reduction. Each of these sources has distinctive sulfur isotope signatures. Mid-ocean
ridge basalts have sulfate/sulfide ratios (mass basis) ranging from 0.05 to 0.45 that correlate
positively with the water content of the basalts (Sakai et al. 1984). The bulk sulfur isotopic
composition averages 0.3 0.5, and the average 34S of the sulfide fraction is 0.7 0.8
(Sakai et al. 1984). Sulfate is stripped from seawater by the precipitation of sulfate minerals
during heating associated with downwelling because of the retrograde solubility of anhydrite
and other sulfate minerals (Bischoff and Seyfried 1978; Seyfried and Bischoff 1981; Shanks et
al. 1995). Shanks et al. (1981) and Woodruff and Shanks (1988) proposed that most of the H2S
in vent fluids is derived from monosulfide solid solution. Because pyrite is the main sulfide
MORB
Sulfur

Seawater
Sulfate

Sediment-hosted
Red Sea
Guaymas Basin
Escanaba Trough
Middle Valley

Back Arc/Arc
Okinawa Basin
Lau Basin
Manus Basin
Mariana Trough

Mid-ocean Ridge
SEPR
EPR 21 N
EPR 13 N
EPR 11 N
EPR 9-10 N
ODP 504B
Galapagos Rift
Axial Seamount
SJFR
Snakepit (MARK)
Broken Spur
TAG

-30

-25

-20

-15

-10

-5

0
34
S

10

15

20

25

Figure 18. Range of 34S values for sulfide and sulfate minerals from modern seafloor hydrothermal
systems. Modified from Shanks et al. (1995), Herzig et al. (1998), and Shanks (2001). Note limited
variations from largely barren mid-ocean ridge systems and wide variations from sedimented systems
where biogenic sulfide may be an important component. Isotopic values are given in permil (VCDT).

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

663

mineral in altered oceanic crust, the derivation of H2S from monosulfide solid solution would
require an oxidation step as described by the reaction:
8 FeS + 10 H+ + SO42 4 FeS2 + H2S + 4H2O + 4 Fe2+

(24)

which should release H2S with a S of 1 to 1.5 (Woodruff and Shanks 1988).
34

The isotopic effects associated with seawater-basalt interactions and associated hydrothermal activity have been modeled by Janecky and Shanks (1988) as two end-member processes:
simple adiabatic mixing, and shallow thermochemical reduction. They concluded that simple
adiabatic mixing can produce H2S having a maximum 34S of 4.5. They also found that thermochemical reduction of seawater sulfate through interactions with ferrous silicates or oxides
is more likely to be important at moderate temperature, off-axis settings where the retrograde
solubility of sulfate minerals has not removed as much sulfate as in higher temperature settings.
Shanks et al. (1981) demonstrated experimentally the effectiveness of sulfate reduction through
interactions with olivine and magnetite. According to the model of Janecky and Shanks (1988),
thermochemical reduction of modern seawater sulfate through interactions with magnetite can
generate H2S having a 34S as high as 15. In contrast, hydrogen sulfide derived from the
dissolution of biogenic sulfides in sedimentary rocks would be expected to have negative 34S
values reflecting bacterial sulfate reduction, as described above.
Modern seafloor hydrothermal sulfide minerals and vent fluids reflect the combination of
the processes of simple adiabatic mixing, thermochemical reduction, and dissolution of biogenic
sulfide minerals. Mid-ocean ridge systems, largely barren of sediments, have 34S values that
typically range between 0 and 6, with the exception of the TAG field along the Mid-Atlantic
Ridge (Fig. 18). Compared to the other examples, TAG is a slow-spreading center, which
includes a greater component of shallow seawater entrainment, sub-seafloor hydrothermal
mineral precipitation and basalt alteration, compared to fast-spreading centers. These processes
are more conducive to thermochemical reduction of seawater sulfate, which imparts higher
34S values to the resulting sulfide. Sedimented systems have a greater range to both higher
and lower 34S values. The lower values undoubtedly document the remobilization of sulfide
initially precipitated by bacterial sulfate reduction. The sulfur isotopic characteristics of backarc and arc settings are interesting because some negative 34S values have been documented
at sites lacking significant sedimentary cover. These sites also have low pH fluids that exceed
seawater concentrations of sulfate; disproportionation of SO2, as described by Equation (20),
has been proposed to explain the low 34S values (Herzig et al. 1993; Gamo et al. 1997). In
essence, these back-arc seafloor hydrothermal systems would represent the modern seafloor
equivalents of the terrestrial acid-sulfate epithermal systems discussed above.
Another interesting aspect of the sulfur isotope characteristics of sulfides in seafloor
hydrothermal systems is in the isotopic composition of the vent fluid H2S. Shanks (2001)
described how the 34S of vent fluid H2S is commonly 1 to more than 4 higher than that
of sulfide minerals on the inner walls of hydrothermal chimneys. For most of the common
sulfide minerals found in seafloor chimneys, the 34S of the mineral should be higher than
that for the associated H2S, and in all cases the difference should be less than 1 at measured
temperatures. Shanks (2001) suggested that local reduction of seawater sulfate in the chimney
environment or equilibrium restricted to the minute, innermost layer of sulfide minerals may
partially explain this discrepancy. An equally impressive observation on the sulfur isotopic
composition of vent fluid H2S is found in time-series sampling of individual vents on the scale
of weeks, months, or a few years. Along the East Pacific Rise, the 34S of H2S from the Aa
vent was found to increase by approximately 2 over the course of approximately three years,
whereas that of the P vent decreased by over 3 over a similar period.
Ancient systems. The sulfur isotope compositions of sulfide minerals from ancient seafloor massive sulfide deposits are interpreted in terms of the same geochemical processes as

664

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operative in modern systems, but with a few additional complexities. Secular variations in the
sulfur isotope composition of seawater, discussed previously, result in one potential component
of sulfide sulfur having a composition that varies as a function of time. A second complexity is
the periodic occurrence of anoxic bottom waters in the oceans on a global scale (Leggett 1980),
which can result in the presence of H2S in the water column near the seafloor. The following
discussion focuses on two general classes
of ancient seafloor deposits containing
sulfide minerals: volcanic-associated
(volcanogenic) massive sulfide deposits,
34S
and sedimentary-exhalative (sedex) mas10 20 30 40 50
-10 0
sive sulfide deposits. Ohmoto (1986) and
0.0
Huston (1999) have provided reviews of
the stable isotope characteristics of ancient volcanic-associated massive sulfide
deposits; Seal et al. (2000a) reviewed their
0.5
isotopic characteristics from the perspective of their associated sulfate minerals.

The secular variations observed in the


sulfur isotopic composition of sulfide and
sulfate minerals in seafloor massive sulfide
deposits mimic, to a remarkable degree, the
secular variations observed in sedimentary
pyrite and marine sulfate and attest to the
dominant role that atmospheric oxygen
has on the global sulfur cycle (Huston
1999; Figs. 9 and 19). The compilation
of Huston (1999) has been expanded to
include data from sedimentary exhalative
deposits and additional volcanicassociated deposits in Figure 19. The 34S
values of sphalerite, galena and pyrite
from the Mississippian Red Dog deposit,
Alaska, range from 45.8 to 12.3, with
most values between 2.5 and 7.5
(Kelley et al. 2004). The lowest values
were produced during the earliest stages

1.0

Age (Ga)

Volcanic-associated deposits form


at active mid-ocean ridge spreading
centers, and in arc-volcanic rocks, continental rifts, and Archean greenstone belts,
whereas sedex deposits form in failed
continental rift settings. Volcanic-associated and sedex deposits are dominated by
sulfide minerals, most commonly pyrite,
pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite, sphalerite, and
galena in varying proportions. They can
also have associated sulfate minerals,
typically anhydrite, barite, or gypsum.
These deposits are major sources of Cu,
Pb, Zn, Ag, and Au.

1.5

2.0

2.5

3.0

3.5
Figure 19. Secular variation of the isotopic composition
of sulfide and sulfate minerals from seafloor massive
sulfide deposits. Modified from Huston (1999) with
data from Whelan et al. (1984), Seal and Wandless
(2003), Seal et al. (2000b, 2001), and Kelley et al.
(2004). Volcanic-associated deposits are shown by
circles; sedimentary exhalative deposits are shown by
squares. Sulfides are white symbols; sulfates are black
symbols. Isotopic values are given in permil (VCDT).

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

665

of hydrothermal activity. Similarly, the 34S values of pyrrhotite, pyrite, sphalerite, and galena
from the Proterozoic Sullivan and nearby deposits, in the Purcell Supergroup, British Columbia,
range between 11 and 6 having a distinct mode around 1 (Seal et al. 2000b; Taylor and
Beaudoin 2000). Taylor and Beaudoin (2000) found significant stratigraphic variations in the
34S values of sulfide minerals within the deposit, which they interpreted in terms of variations
in the relative proportions of H2S-derived bacterial sulfate reduction and thermochemical sulfate
reduction throughout the period of hydrothermal activity. The Proterozoic Balmat-Edwards
Zn-Pb deposits, which experienced amphibolite-facies regional metamorphism, have a limited
range of 34S values from pyrite, sphalerite, and galena (11.5 to 17.5), presumably because of
the homogenizing effects of the metamorphism (Whelan et al. 1984).
Prior to 2.4 Ga, the inferred onset of oxygen in the atmosphere, the 34S of hydrothermal
sulfide and sulfate indicated limited variations and both cluster near 0. Between 2.4 and 0.7
Ga, the 34S of hydrothermal sulfide and sulfate has a significantly wider range and increasing
34S values. Beginning after 0.7 Ga, the time proposed by Canfield and Teske (1996) for the
onset of higher oxygen levels in the atmosphere, the 34S of hydrothermal sulfides and sulfates
indicates a dramatic increase both in range and average value (Fig. 19).
The general correlation between the average 34S of a volcanic-associated massive sulfide
deposit and coeval seawater was first identified by Sangster (1968). He noted a roughly 17.5
difference between seawater and the mean composition of volcanic-associated massive sulfide
deposits. For sediment-hosted deposits, which include sedimentary-exhalative deposits among
other types, he found a smaller 11.7 fractionation between seawater and sulfide. Janecky
and Shanks (1988) quantified the relationship between the 34S of coeval seawater and
sulfide in basaltic seafloor hydrothermal systems using reaction-path geochemical modeling
coupled with sulfur-isotope mass-balance equations. They found that for simple adiabatic
mixing, as discussed above, the maximum 34S of sulfides that can be achieved is 4.5,
which corresponds to a seawater-sulfide fractionation of 16.5, remarkably similar to the
fractionation proposed by Sangster (1968). Janecky and Shanks (1988) found a maximum
34S of sulfides formed through thermochemical reduction of 15, which corresponds to a
seawater-sulfide fractionation of 6. These maximum compositions of sulfide resulting from
these two end-member processes will vary accordingly with secular variations in the 34S
of seawater sulfate. Despite the predictable relationship between the 34S of seawater and
hydrothermal sulfides, Janecky and Shanks (1988) found that sulfur isotope disequilibrium
best describes sulfide and sulfate in seafloor vent systems, and that the systematic relationship
is established at depth in the reaction zone of the seafloor hydrothermal system.
Sulfur isotope studies in the Selwyn Basin (Yukon) by Goodfellow (1987) and Shanks et al.
(1987) suggested the significance of H2S-bearing anoxic bottom waters in determining the isotopic composition of sedimentary-exhalative massive sulfide deposits. Goodfellow and Jonasson
(1984) investigated the sulfur isotope composition of sedimentary pyrite and barite within the
Cambrian to Mississippian strata of the Selwyn basin. They used the barite data to define a local
Selwyn basin sulfate sulfur isotope secular curve that is locally over 20 higher than the global
marine sulfate curve of Claypool et al. (1980). They used the higher values within the Selwyn
basin as evidence that the Selwyn basin had restricted access to the open ocean and that the bottom waters were anoxic and H2S-bearing. Shanks et al. (1987) extended the Selwyn basin curve
farther back into Cambrian time with additional data from the Anvil district. They used data
from sedimentary pyrite to define a secular H2S curve. Goodfellow (1987) used the coincidence
of the sulfur isotopic composition of the massive sulfide deposits with that of the sedimentary
pyrites to conclude that sulfur for the mineral deposits was dominantly derived from H2S in an
anoxic water column during periods of stagnation in the Selwyn basin. He proposed that these
stagnation events may have been global in extent. Goodfellow and Peter (1996) provided additional support for the global extent of these anoxia events from their studies of the sulfur isotope

666

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geochemistry of the Brunswick No. 12 deposit in the Bathurst mining camp (New Brunswick),
which has sulfur isotope values that fall on the secular pyrite curve for the Selwyn basin.
The role of anoxic bottom waters for the genesis of volcanic-associated massive sulfide
deposits can be evaluated by comparing the secular variations in the sulfur isotope composition
of seawater and hypothetical hydrothermal sulfide with the sulfur isotope compositions
of sulfide and sulfate minerals from massive sulfide deposits. Seal and Wandless (2003)
compared secular variations in the sulfur isotopic composition of sulfide and sulfate minerals
from Cambrian and Ordovician volcanic-associated massive sulfide deposits from around the
world with the global marine sulfate curve, Selwyn basin pyrite curve, and the maximum 34S
values attainable through simple adiabatic mixing and shallow thermochemical reduction
(Fig. 20), as modeled by Janecky and Shanks (1988). Figure 20 has been extended into the
latest Proterozoic to include data from the Barite Hill deposit, South Carolina for comparison
(Seal et al. 2001). Seal and Wandless (2003) found that the sulfur isotope composition of
many of the deposits fell within the permissible range for simple adiabatic mixing, and that
all fell within the permissible range for shallow thermochemical reduction (Fig. 20). Thus, the
isotopic characteristics of sulfide minerals from all of these deposits can be explained without
the need for anoxic H2S-bearing bottom waters, although their role is not necessarily excluded.
The 34S values of the associated sulfate minerals provide the most compelling evidence for
anoxic waters in the case of the deposits of the Mount Read volcanic belt, Tasmania (Solomon
et al. 1969, 1988; Gemmell and Large 1992; McGoldrick and Large 1992), which have 34S
values for sulfate well in excess of the global marine sulfate curve (Fig. 20).

Mississippi Valley-type deposits


Mississippi Valley-type Pb-Zn deposits typically form in continental settings in lowtemperature (<200 C), near-neutral environments in which sulfur isotope disequilibrium
would be expected to dominate (Ohmoto and Lasaga 1982). Thus, stable isotope data from
sulfide minerals from Mississippi Valley-type deposits should provide information about the
source of sulfide and its geochemical history. Stable isotope studies of Mississippi Valley-type
deposits are dominated by sulfur isotope data from both sulfide and sulfate minerals (Ault and
Kulp 1960; Sasaki and Krouse 1969; Ohmoto 1986; Kaiser et al. 1987; Richardson et al. 1988;
Kesler et al. 1994; Appold et al. 1995; Kesler 1996; Misra et al. 1996; Jones et al. 1996).
Sulfide sulfur in Mississippi Valley-type environments can be derived from a variety of
sources including organically bound sulfur, H2S reservoir gas, evaporites, connate seawater,
and diagenetic sulfides. In all cases, these sources are seawater sulfate that has followed various
geochemical pathways that impart different isotopic fractionations. The reduction of sulfate
occurs either through bacterially mediated processes or abiotic thermochemical processes.
Bacterial sulfate reduction, as discussed above, can produce sulfatesulfide fractionations that
typically range from 15 to 60 (Goldhaber and Kaplan 1975), whereas those associated with
abiotic thermochemical reactions with organic compounds range from zero to as much as 10
(Orr 1974; Kiyosu 1980). Bacterial sulfate reduction has been documented at temperatures
up to 110 C (Jrgensen et al. 1992), but the optimum temperature range is between 30 and
40 C. Ohmoto and Goldhaber (1997) argued that at the site of ore deposition, thermochemical
reduction is not effective at T < 125 C because of slow reaction kinetics. For thermochemical
reduction to be an important process in Mississippi Valley-type environments, reduction must
occur away from the site of ore deposition, in the deeper, hotter parts of the basin. It should
be noted that although the kinetic fractionations associated with both reduction processes are
distinct, they can produce H2S of similar compositions if bacterial sulfate reduction occurs
quantitatively (or nearly so) in an environment with little or no Fe to sequester the sulfide.
Sulfur isotope data from other Mississippi Valley-type deposits suggest two major sulfide
reservoirs, one centered between 5 to 15 and one greater than 20 (Fig. 21). The higher
values of sulfides typically coincide with those of the composition of associated sulfate

667

420
440

Silurian

Anoxia

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

Pridolian
Ludlovian
Wenlockian

Seawater
Sulfate

Llandoverian
GP

480

BB
B12

Llandeilian
Llanvirnian

BM
SL

Arenigian

MWTC MC
BL
BC

520

LB

TC
CMR

CMR

SML

Proterozoic

SML

Middle

NMR

NMR

Selwyn Basin Pyrite

Early

540
560

MWTh

LK

Late

500

MWTC
MWTh
BC

Tremadocian

Cambrian

Age (Ma)

460

Ordovician

Ashgillian
Caradocian

Simple
Adiabatic
Mixing
Late

Shallow
Thermochemical
Reduction

BH

BH

580
-5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

34

Figure 20. Variation of sulfur isotope composition with age for various Early Paleozoic and Late
Proterozoic massive sulfide deposits (modified from Seal and Wandless 2003). The age distribution of
anoxic events in the Iapetus Ocean indicated on the figure is reflected by the presence of black shales (after
Leggett 1980). The compositions of the deposits are shown as the mean and range. Data are from Huston
(1999) unless otherwise noted in text. The seawater sulfate curve (gray field) is modified from Claypool et
al. (1980) to account for the 1.65 fractionation between evaporitic sulfate minerals and dissolved sulfate
(Seal et al. 2000). The Selwyn Basin pyrite curve (heavy black line) is modified from Goodfellow and
Jonasson (1984). The upper limits for the composition of sulfide derived from simple adiabatic mixing of
vent-fluid H2S and ambient seawater and of sulfide derived from shallow level thermochemical reduction
of seawater sulfate are based on the models of Janecky and Shanks (1988) and are shown as the dashed
curves with arrows. Black circles depict data from sulfide minerals; white squares depict data from sulfate
minerals. Abbreviations: B12, Brunswick No. 12, Bathurst Mining camp, New Brunswick; BB, Boucher
Brook Formation deposits, Bathurst Mining Camp, New Brunswick; BC, Buchans, Newfoundland; BH,
Barite Hill, South Carolina; BL, Balcooma, Queensland; CMR, Central Mount Read Volcanics Belt,
Tasmania; GP, Gull Pond, Newfoundland; LB, Lushs Bight Ophiolite, Newfoundland; LK, Lokken
Ophiolite, Norway; MWTC, Mount Windsor-Trooper Creek, Queensland; MWTh, Mount WindsorThalanga, Queensland; NMR, Northern Mount Read Volcanics Belt, Tasmania; SL, Sulitjelma, Norway;
SML, Southern Mount Lyell Volcanics Belt, Tasmania TC, Tilt Cove, Newfoundland.

minerals, and have been interpreted to reflect the minimal fractionation associated with abiotic
thermochemical reduction (Kesler 1996). However, similar compositions of sulfide could be
generated by closed-system, quantitative bacterial reduction of sulfate. A carbonate aquifer is
an ideal environment for such a geochemical process due to the lack of reactive Fe to scavenge
and fractionate sulfur. The lower values may reflect formation from H2S derived either directly
or indirectly from open-system bacterial reduction of sulfate. Kesler et al. (1994) proposed that
low 34S H2S was derived from oil in the deeper parts of the basin for the Central Tennessee
and Kentucky Mississippi Valley-type districts. This H2S ultimately would have been derived
from the bacterial reduction of sulfate. The H2S from both bacterial and abiotic reduction is not
in sulfur isotope equilibrium with associated sulfate minerals (Fig. 21).
Stable isotope and fluid-inclusion studies by Richardson et al. (1988) of samples from the
Deardorff mine from the Cave-in-Rock fluorspar district, Illinois, indicate mineralization was

668

Seal
Tennessee Embayment
(L. Cambrian)
Quebec
Embayment
(U. Cambrian)
Tennessee Embayment
(L. Ordovician )

Frequency

Pennsylvania Embayment

(L. Ordovician )

Pennsylvania Embayment
(L. Silurian)

*uebec
Embayment
(Mississippian)
Cincinnati Arch

SE Missouri Barite District

Cave-In-Rock District, Illinois

-10

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

34S
Figure 21. Sulfur isotope histograms for Mississippi Valley-type hydrothermal systems in North America.
Data from sphalerite are shown in black; data from sulfate minerals are shown in white. All isotopic values
are given in permil (VCDT).

dominated by two formation fluids recharged by meteoric waters, one of which circulated into
the basement rocks under low water/rock conditions. Liquid hydrocarbons are present in fluid
inclusion in most minerals. The low 34S of sulfides (4.0 to 8.9 for sphalerite) indicates a significant contribution of H2S from petroleum sources. The sulfides are completely out of isotopic
equilibrium with late stage barites, which have 34S values ranging from about 57 to 103.
These data suggest that the aqueous sulfate was derived from a small fluid reservoir in which the
residual seawater sulfate underwent thermal chemical reduction with organic matter. Supporting evidence includes the decrease in the 13CCO2 of the fluids during carbonate deposition.

SUMMARY
The Earth is assumed to have a bulk 34S value of around 0, essentially the same as
most meteorites. Some of the most important factors affecting sulfur isotope fractionation
throughout the history of the Earth have been oxidation and reduction reactions that ultimately

Sulfur Isotope Geochemistry of Sulfide Minerals

669

have been facilitated by the progressive development of an oxygenated atmosphere. Prior to


2.4 Ga, the sedimentary record reveals limited variation in the 34S of sulfides and sulfates,
presumably due to the lack of oxygen. The ancient geologic record also preserves significant
mass-independent sulfur isotope anomalies which have been interpreted to be the result of
UV-induced photochemical reactions in the atmosphere due to the absence of an ozone layer
(Farquhar et al. 2000a). The mass-independent anomalies stop abruptly after 2.4 Ga and the
34S of sedimentary sulfides and sulfates begin to show greater variability, consistent with
the onset of an oxygenated atmosphere. Beginning at about 0.7 Ga, another major change
in the variability of the 34S of sedimentary sulfides and sulfates occurs that is indicated by
much wider ranges of compositions, which again has been interpreted in terms of increased
atmospheric concentrations of oxygen (Canfield and Teske 1996). These same transitions in
sedimentary isotopic compositions are also apparent in the isotopic signatures of marine,
volcanic-associated massive sulfide deposits.
Throughout much of the history of the Earth, the metabolism of sulfate-reducing bacteria
has been important in producing the variability recorded in the geologic record. The profound
impact of sulfate-reducing bacteria on the global sulfur cycle may even be discernible in the
mantle, where the negative 34S values of sulfide inclusions are likely derived from subducted
sedimentary sulfides (Chaussidon et al. 1987; Eldridge et al. 1991). Equally impressive is the
fact that these mantle heterogeneities may have persisted for billions of years as indicated
by the identification of mass-independent anomalies in sulfide inclusions in diamonds, for
which the most likely explanation is that the anomalies were locked in the mineral record
prior to 2.4 Ga when the atmosphere became oxygenated (Farquhar et al. 2002). The isotopic
imprint of sulfate-reducing bacteria can be found in many reaches of the sulfur cycle, from
sedimentary sulfides and sulfates, to coal beds, to seafloor hydrothermal mineral deposits, to
continental Mississippi Valley-type deposits formed from basinal brines, and to magmas of all
compositions that have interacted with crustal rocks.
Sulfur-rich magmatic sulfide deposits associated with mafic igneous rocks commonly
record the fingerprint of contamination by crustal sedimentary sulfur. Hydrothermal systems
associated with oxidized felsic magmas emplaced into shallow levels of the crust reflect
sulfur isotope signatures determined by high-temperature isotopic exchange between reduced
and oxidized sulfur species such as H2S and SO42, which commonly are the result of the
disproportionation of SO2. High-temperature settings associated with porphyry environments
tend to record equilibrium sulfur isotope fractionations, whereas moderate temperature
settings, such as those for epithermal deposits are more likely to record disequilibrium
fractionations, unless the fluids are more acidic when the kinetics of sulfur isotope exchange
are more favorable (Ohmoto and Lasaga 1982). In even lower temperature environments, such
as those associated with diagenetic sulfides including coal beds, and basinal brines associated
with Mississippi Valley-type deposits, kinetic fractionations dominate rather than equilibrium
fractionations. In all cases, it is the reaction of a reduced sulfur species to an oxidized sulfur
species, the reaction of an oxidized sulfur species to a reduced sulfur species, or isotopic
exchange between an oxidized and a reduced sulfur species that causes the most significant
sulfur isotope variations.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Discussions with Bob Rye and Pat Shanks have been incredibly rewarding over the years.
Don Canfield kindly shared his sulfur-isotope data base. Laboratory assistance and support from
Greg Wandless has been indispensable. Assistance with literature searches from Carmen ONeill
and Nadine Piatak is greatly appreciated. Brenda Pierce assisted with Russian translations. The
manuscript benefited from reviews by Avery Drake, Jeff Grossman, Nadine Piatak, Pat Shanks,

670

Seal

and David Vaughan. The preparation of this chapter has been supported by Kate Johnson,
Program Coordinator of the Mineral Resources Program of the U.S. Geological Survey.

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